At press time, it was expected that on Thursday, October 2, Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) would introduce the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE) of 2003 in the Senate. The legislation would amend parts of the USA Patriot Act, including Section 215, which gives law enforcement officials broad authority to demand that libraries or bookstores turn over books, records, papers, and documents.
Similar to the Library, Bookstore, and Personal Records Privacy Act -- legislation introduced into the Senate by Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI) in late July -- SAFE would narrow the universe of people whose bookstore or library records could be searched under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under SAFE, the FBI cannot access bookstore or library records without specifying that "there are specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the person to whom the records pertain is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power."
While the amendment to Section 215 is similar to Feingold's bill, free speech advocates believe the introduction of SAFE will be a huge step forward politically because it is co-sponsored by a Republican. Feingold's bill is co-sponsored by 11 senators, all of whom are Democrats.
In related news, on September 24, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) introduced the Benjamin Franklin True Patriot Act (H.R. 3171). Among its numerous amendments to the USA Patriot Act, H.R. 3171 would repeal Section 215 and Section 213, a section in the Patriot Act that presently allows the FBI to conduct "sneak and peek" searches without giving notice of the search or the issuance of a warrant.
The growing trend in Washington toward amending the sweeping powers of the USA Patriot Act began in March 2003, when Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), which would amend Section 215. Sanders' bill currently has 135 co-sponsors. --David Grogan