Larry Siems (PEN), 212-334-1660 ext. 105
Judith Platt (AAP), 202-220-4551
Lynne Bradley (ALA), 800-941-8478
Washington, DC, April 12, 2005 —Organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers and writers today welcomed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ expressed willingness to address problems with a section of the USA PATRIOT Act that authorizes FBI searches of business records, including the records of booksellers, librarians and publishers. During testimony before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees last week, Gonzales said the administration, which had previously opposed changes in Section 215, would support amendments that respond to some of the concerns raised by critics. "The book community is encouraged to hear that the administration is at last heeding concerns that Section 215 has eliminated essential safeguards for reader privacy," Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association, said.
The book groups support two bills that take different approaches to remedying the problems posed by Section 215. The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), which was introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), exempts bookstore and library records from Section 215. This exemption has the effect of barring searches in the absence of evidence showing that there is "probable cause" to believe the person whose records are sought is engaged in criminal conduct. During his testimony, Gonzales said that he opposes adding the probable cause standard to Section 215. The other approach is embodied in the Safety and Freedom Enhancement (SAFE) Act (S. 737), which was introduced last week by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). The SAFE Act requires the FBI to possess "specific and articulable facts" indicating "reason to believe" that the person whose records are sought is a terrorist or foreign agent.
"Libraries and bookstores are not places for the government to go on fishing expeditions," said Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director of the American Library Association’s Washington Office. "Requiring that the FBI possess facts indicating that a person is a suspect ensures that the government will only view the reading records of suspected terrorists," she continued.
"The ability to challenge Section 215 orders in court, the opportunity to inform and engage counsel, and the assurance that the FBI can gain access only to the records of those who are the target of a terrorism investigation—these are the basic changes that the book community has been asking for," said Larry Siems, Director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "We strongly encourage Congress to take the Attorney General at his word and enact legislation that restores these protections."
"We’re grateful to those members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who stood firm in the face of past attempts by the Administration to trivialize concerns about reader privacy. We hope the Attorney General’s testimony marks the opening of a real dialogue on the PATRIOT Act with respect to reader privacy and other basic freedoms," said Judith Platt, Director of the Association of American Publishers’ Freedom to Read Program.