ASJA Supports Modifications to the USA Patriot Act

New York, NY Oct. 30, 2003 — Following is the Book and Library Community Statement Supporting the following proposed legislation:

The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157)
The Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158)
The Library, Bookseller and Personal Data Privacy Act (S. 1507)

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 or of having any knowledge of 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 to have the opportunity to object on First Amendment grounds prior to the execution of the order. Because the order contains a gag provision forbidding a bookseller or librarian from alerting anyone to the fact that a search has occurred, it would be difficult to protest the search even after the fact.

The organizations listed below strongly support federal legislation that addresses this problem: the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), the Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158) and the Library, Bookseller and Personal Data Privacy Act (S. 1507). These bills strengthen protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records. The FBI will still be able to obtain crucial records. However, under H.R. 1157 and S. 1158, the courts will exercise their normal scrutiny in reviewing these requests. S. 1507 allows the FBI to follow the procedures authorized by Section 215 but limits searches to the records of “foreign agents” engaged in acts of terrorism or espionage.

We applaud the authors of these bills, U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders (H.R. 1157), Senator Barbara Boxer (S. 1158) and Senator Russell D. Feingold (S. 1507) as well as the Democratic and Republican sponsors and co-sponsors of this legislation. They have shown great courage by defending civil liberties during a time of crisis.

American Association of Law Libraries
American Booksellers Association
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Library Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Association of American Publishers
Association of American University Presses
Association of Booksellers for Children
Authors Guild
Children’s Book Council
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Freedom to Read Foundation
Great Lakes Booksellers Association
Medical Library Association
Montana Library Association
Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association
National Association of Independent Publishers Representatives
New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
New England Booksellers Association
New York Library Association
Northern California Independent Booksellers Association
Pacific Northwest Independent Booksellers Association
PEN American Center
Publishers Association of the West
Publishers Marketing Association
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Southeast Booksellers Association
Southern California Booksellers Association
Special Libraries Association
Upper Midwest Booksellers Association
Virginia Library Association