ASJA Supports Freedom to Read Protection Act

ASJA’s First Amendment Committee has voted to sign on the following statement in support of the Freedom to Read Protection Act. We join the American Booksellers Association, PEN American Center and other groups in this statement.

Book Industry Statement Supporting The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157)

April 14, 2003

Our society places the highest value on the ability to speak freely on any subject. But freedom of speech depends on the freedom to explore ideas privately. Bookstore customers and library patrons must feel free to seek out books on health, religion, politics, the law, or any subject they choose, without fear that the government is looking over their shoulder. Without the assurance that their reading choices will remain private, they will be reluctant to fully exercise their right to read freely.

Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act threatens bookstore and library privacy. FBI agents do not need to prove they have “probable cause” before searching bookstore or library records: they can get access to the records of anyone whom they believe to have information that may be relevant to a terrorism investigation, including people who are not suspected of committing a crime. The request for an order authorizing the search is heard by a secret court in a closed proceeding, making it impossible for a bookseller or librarian the opportunity to object on First Amendment grounds. Because the order contains a gag provision forbidding a bookseller or librarian from alerting anyone to the fact that a search has occurred, it is impossible to protest the search even after the fact.

The organizations listed below strongly support the Freedom to Read Protection Act of 2003 (H.R. 1157). Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 6 by Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), H.R. 1157 restores the protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records that were eliminated by the Patriot Act. Law enforcement officials will still be able to subpoena bookstore and library records crucial to an investigation, but the courts will exercise their normal scrutiny in reviewing these requests.

We applaud Congressman Sanders and the Democratic and Republican sponsors and co-sponsors of H.R. 1157. They have shown great courage by defending civil liberties during a time of crisis.

American Booksellers Association
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Association of American Publishers
Freedom to Read Foundation
Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association
PEN American Center

Librarians Take Action to Protect Freedom to Read

Librarians and library boards around the country who object to Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act are finding ways to take action. Some libraries are posting signs to warn the public they may be monitored, such as the Schaumburg Township District Library near Chicago. The New Jersey Library Association recently held a seminar for librarians recommending that libraries shred signup sheets, delete information from databases on returned books, and install software on computers to automatically erase a web browser’s cache.