On Wednesday, the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP) urged Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act to restore privacy protections that were eliminated by the Patriot Act. CRP is a joint initiative of the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and PEN American Center.
The Freedom Act (S. 1599/H.R. 3361) was introduced on October 29 by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in response to revelations that the National Security Agency is using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records of the telephone calls made by Americans without regard to whether they are suspected of involvement in terrorism. Section 215 eliminated the requirement that the government show evidence of “individualized suspicion” before it can conduct a search in a terrorism investigation.
Since 2004, CRP has warned that Section 215 could be used to obtain the records of innocent Americans, including records of the books they purchase from bookstores or borrow from libraries. Supporters of the Patriot Act, including Rep. Sensenbrenner, argued that it would be used only to investigate someone suspected of terrorism; however, the revelations of former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden convinced Sensenbrenner and others that additional safeguards are needed to protect privacy. The Freedom Act would limit government searches to the records of people who are suspected terrorists and their associates.
The Freedom Act also reforms the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorized the NSA’s bulk collection of records. It creates a “special advocate” who would have the security clearances necessary to argue for privacy interests during the court’s closed proceedings. It requires the Inspector General of the Department of Justice to audit the government’s use of its secret powers.
“Consistent with booksellers’ long-time concern for protecting free speech, the American Booksellers Association is pleased to support the USA Freedom Act, legislation that we believe will help ensure that the First Amendment rights of American citizens will be protected,” ABA CEO Oren Teicher said.
“From the earliest days, and throughout the long Patriot Act reauthorization fight, publishers have been concerned about the threat to reader privacy posed by Section 215 and have sought some standard of individualized suspicion as the basis for obtaining a Section 215 order,” said AAP President and CEO Tom Allen. “With the USA Freedom Act, we have a real opportunity to obtain that safeguard.”