On April 14, Senator Orrin Hatch's Senate Judiciary Committee field hearing on the USA Patriot Act in Salt Lake City made for strange bedfellows, as liberals, libertarians, and conservatives joined together to voice their concerns over a half-dozen provisions in the Patriot Act, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune. One such provision is Section 215, which gives law enforcement officials broad authority to demand that libraries or bookstores turn over books, records, papers, and documents.
Speaking at the hearing, Hatch (R-UT) said, "Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric regarding our nation's anti-terrorism laws appears based on misinformation and unjust speculation," and asked for specific examples where the Act has been abused, as reported by Deseret Morning News (deseretnews.com).
However, Dani Eyer of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah testified, "The Patriot Act has become a symbol of excessive executive branch power. The Act was the result of an extraordinary time."
Eyer also stated, "A public that is afraid that the government is seeking to obtain unchecked power will become suspicious even of legitimate anti-terrorism efforts," the Salt Lake Tribune noted. She said that passage of the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE) of 2003 -- which was introduced in the Senate on October 2, 2003, by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) -- would restore "much-needed checks and balances and ensure the Patriot Act would be used solely in terrorism cases," Deseret Morning News reported. The legislation (S. 1709) would amend parts of the USA Patriot Act, including Section 215. (For a previous article on SAFE, click here.)
Additionally, Frank Mylar of the Grassroots Conservative Caucus warned that it is not just about whether the power granted authorities under the Patriot Act has been abused -- it is also about the potential for abuse. "We need to look at what could potentially happen in future administrations [who might use the Patriot Act] to target pro life, pro defense of marriage organizations, and Second Amendment organizations."
Though no booksellers appeared at the field hearing, Betsy Burton of The King's English bookstore and Tony Weller of Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore, both in Salt Lake City, sent letters to Hatch in which they spelled out booksellers' strong conviction that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act should be amended. (To read Burton's letter, click here.) Burton also wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in the April 14 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune.