In a statement released on April 12, 2005, the co-sponsors of the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP) -- the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center -- said that they welcomed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' stated willingness to address problems with Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which authorizes FBI searches of business records, including the records of booksellers, librarians, and publishers. During testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary last week, Gonzales said the administration -- which had previously opposed changes in Section 215 -- would support amendments that respond to some of the concerns raised by critics.
"The book community is encouraged to hear that the administration is at last heeding concerns that Section 215 has eliminated essential safeguards for reader privacy," said ABA COO Oren Teicher.
The book groups support two bills that take different approaches to remedying the problems posed by Section 215.
The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), which was first introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in March 2003, exempts bookstore and library records from Section 215. This exemption has the effect of barring searches in the absence of evidence showing that there is "probable cause" to believe the person whose records are sought is engaged in criminal conduct. However, during his testimony, Gonzales said he opposes adding a probable cause standard to Section 215.
Last week, Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), introduced the Safety and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act (S. 737), which takes a different approach to amending Section 215, among other provisions. The SAFE Act requires the FBI to possess "specific and articulable facts" indicating "reason to believe" that the person whose records are sought is a terrorist or foreign agent.
"Libraries and bookstores are not places for the government to go on fishing expeditions," said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association's Washington Office. "Requiring that the FBI possess facts indicating that a person is a suspect ensures that the government will only view the reading records of suspected terrorists," she continued.
"The ability to challenge Section 215 orders in court, the opportunity to inform and engage counsel, and the assurance that the FBI can gain access only to the records of those who are the target of a terrorism investigation -- these are the basic changes that the book community has been asking for," said Larry Siems, director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "We strongly encourage Congress to take the Attorney General at his word and enact legislation that restores these protections."
"We're grateful to those members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who stood firm in the face of past attempts by the Administration to trivialize concerns about reader privacy. We hope the Attorney General's testimony marks the opening of a real dialogue on the Patriot Act with respect to reader privacy and other basic freedoms," said Judith Platt, director of the Association of American Publishers' Freedom to Read Program.
With Congress scheduled to continue holding hearings on the Patriot Act, ABA's Teicher stressed that it is more important than ever for booksellers to continue to collect customer signatures on petitions calling for an amendment of Section 215. The petitions are the centerpiece of the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP) -- a nationwide grassroots effort to ensure the privacy of bookstore and library records.
"It's important to remember we were heard last year," said Teicher. "But now it's time to mobilize for a final push to show Congress that booksellers -- and our customers -- continue to believe that First Amendment rights are undermined by this law."
ABA is distributing new CRP materials -- including redesigned petitions and a new bookmark that asks, "Is Someone Reading Over Your Shoulder?" The petition forms and bookmarks, as a well as a letter to booksellers from ABA COO Oren Teicher, were sent to stores with Book Sense in the April Red Box. These materials are also available by calling ABA at (800) 637-0037, ext. 292, or via download from www.bookweb.org/read/7679.