Larry Siems (PEN), 212-334-1660 ext. 105
Judith Platt (AAP), 202-220-4551
Bernadette Murphy (ALA), 202-628-8410
Washington, D.C., November 21, 2005—As a result of the outcry from free speech advocates and civil liberties groups, on Friday, November 18, Congress postponed a vote on the draft USA Patriot Act conference committee report until after the Thanksgiving recess. The decision to push back the vote gives supporters of the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP) and other First Amendment advocates an important opportunity to convince their Congressional representatives to push for the Senate version of the Patriot Act reauthorization, which provides more protections for reader privacy. The American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, and their CRP co-sponsors -- the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center -- are encouraging all supporters to contact their representatives and senators at their local offices during Thanksgiving break to urge them to push for a final report that falls in line with the Senate version of the Patriot Act legislation.
"CRP participants' efforts were instrumental in postponing what seemed to be an inevitable setback in our efforts to restore reader privacy," said ABA COO Oren Teicher. "In a few weeks, Congress will reconvene, and while we can't be sure exactly when Congress will vote again on the Patriot Act, this is a perfect opportunity to reinforce our message regarding the need to protect readers' rights to privacy."
The late rally in the favor of reader privacy proponents began after the House-Senate conference committee produced a draft conference report that, among other things, failed to include previously approved, critical protections for bookstore and library records in the final version. As it currently stands, the conference report does not include a Senate provision limiting searches to the records of suspected terrorists. The bill outlines a new procedure that would allow recipients of Section 215 orders to challenge them in the secret FISA court, but the exact mechanism for such an appeal remains unclear. The bill makes permanent many Patriot Act provisions and resets the sunset provision of Section 215 to expire in seven years -- three years longer than the Senate recommended and the House approved in a motion to instruct the conferees.
The news of the legislation spurred a public outcry from numerous free speech and civil liberties groups, including CRP, and on Friday morning, November 18, a bipartisan group of 10 House and Senate members, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), held a press conference to announce their contention that the current draft needed further revision.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Friday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), stated: "I was hopeful that ... we could negotiate in good faith and reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement. We made some progress over the weekend on important issues, reaching a tentative agreement on improved reporting requirements that would shine some light on the use of certain surveillance techniques. I believed that we were close to striking a reasonable balance on the core civil liberties issues raised by the Patriot Act.
"But on Sunday [November 13], the Bush Administration stepped in and with the acquiescence of congressional Republicans the bipartisan negotiations were abruptly ended.... Democratic participation was excluded from the process. As a result, the tentative agreements were scuttled based on Bush Administration demands."
Leahy also noted: "Working with Chairman Specter, we are insisting on modifications to the conference report that will make it more protective of civil liberties and increase opportunities for oversight, including a four-year sunset."
CRP is asking supporters to communicate with their senators and representatives to ask for their support to change the language of the Patriot Act conference report to reflect these concerns:
• The current draft requires that the FBI need only assert facts "relevant" to a general terrorist investigation to get an order from a secret FISA court for records. This is a lower and less protective standard than the Senate version of the bill that required the FBI to demonstrate a connection between the records sought and a terrorist organization or a suspected terrorist. We want the Senate language.
• The current draft has seven-year sunsets: The Campaign wants a four-year sunset that will make it possible to correct an abuse of Section 215 at an earlier date.
• Tell your representatives that you want the conference report to reflect the points above and thank them for supporting the civil liberties of bookstore and library patrons.