In early March, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), federal legislation that would remove a threat to the privacy of bookstore and library records posed by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. Though the bill has 58 co-sponsors thus far, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), one of the sponsors of the bill, urged booksellers to rally behind H.R. 1157 so that more members of the House would support the bill.
Congressman Ron Paul
"It's going to be difficult to pass [H.R. 1157] because of the atmosphere and the fact that we're at war," Paul told BTW in a recent interview. "If you get enough people, say if you got a thousand people per district -- your congressman will listen."
The USA Patriot Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to give the FBI vastly expanded authority to search business records, including the records of bookstores and libraries. The FBI may request the records secretly, and it is not required to prove that there is "probable cause" to believe the person whose records are being sought has committed a crime. In addition, the bookseller or librarian who receives an order is prohibited from revealing it to anyone except those whose help is needed to produce the records.
Paul explained that, when the Patriot Act was passed in the wake of 9/11, he voted against it and believes it challenges the Fourth Amendment. As such, he was glad to add his name to Sanders' bill. "There are so many bad parts to the Patriot Act, I would repeal the whole thing," he said. "The Freedom to Read Protection Act will be difficult to pass, but that's why it's important for people such as yourselves to rally your readership. Now, they're gearing up to make it worse, with the Patriot Act II. The only way to help is to alert the people to what's going on."
Along with the need for a grass roots movement against the Patriot Act, Paul noted that it's important that the Freedom to Read Protection Act be a bipartisan initiative. At press time, only five of the 58 co-sponsors are Republicans, including Paul. Unfortunately, this is the current nature of politics, he said. "If Clinton were President now, it would be the Republicans yelling and screaming [about the Patriot Act], because everything here is partisan," he said, and added that he felt that many Republican Representatives want to sign H.R. 1157, but won't because they are intimidated. "They don't want to be seen as going against the [Republican] President."
All the more reason for citizens opposed to the Patriot Act, such as booksellers and librarians, to inform their customers and urge them to contact their congressperson. Paul said that it's crucial that people do not "fluff [the USA Patriot Act] off believing it necessary. I think we live in very dangerous times."
For more information about Congressman Paul, click here. For more information on H.R. 1157, click here. For a list of all of the co-sponsors of the Freedom to Read Protection Act, click here. --David Grogan