Larry Siems (PEN), 212-334-1660 ext. 105
Judith Platt (AAP), 202-220-4551
Bernadette Murphy (ALA), 202-628-8410, ext. 8236
Washington, D.C., March 8, 2006—On the day that the House of Representatives joined the Senate in re-authorizing Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act for another four years, organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers and writers promised to continue the fight to add reader privacy protections to the PATRIOT Act. Members of the Campaign for Reader Privacy indicated they are not satisfied with the re-authorization bill that finally passed the House and the Senate, but noted that some ground had been gained. They promised to support a bill introduced on Monday by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) that includes a number of civil liberties protections that were omitted from the re-authorization bill, including a provision that fixes Section 215.
The major disappointment in the re-authorization bill is the failure to narrow authority to search bookstore and library records to the records of people who are suspected of terrorism. Both the House and the Senate approved such a limitation. However, it was strongly opposed by the Bush administration, and, in the end, it was not included in the re-authorization bill. As a result, the FBI retains the authority under Section 215 to search any records that are ÒrelevantÓ to a terrorism investigation.
Public pressure, including a national petition drive by the Campaign for Reader Privacy that generated hundreds of thousands of signatures, succeeded in forcing the addition of some new protections, although it is unclear whether or to what extent they will be adequate to prevent abusive Section 215 searches.
Under the new law, FBI agents seeking a Section 215 order to search bookstore or library records must first obtain the permission of one of three top officials, including either the director or deputy director of the FBI or the Executive Assistant Director of National Security and must also present a statement of facts justifying the relevance of their request to a judge in the secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Bookstores and libraries that receive a Section 215 order can consult an attorney and now have a right to challenge the orders in the FISA court. The ÒgagÓ order that prevents institutions from revealing they have received Section 215 orders remains in place, but it can now be challenged after one year. Finally, the Inspector General of the Justice Department must conduct a review of the use of Section 215 since 2001 and report publicly whether any abuses have occurred, and the Justice Department must annually report the number of bookstore and library searches that have occurred under Section 215.
The Campaign for Reader Privacy will continue to work with Representative Bernie Sanders of Vermont (I-VT), Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and other leaders in the campaign to restore the protections for reader privacy. Specter, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said that he will hold hearings on his bill, S. 2369, soon.