I am here today on behalf of the 2,700 writers who are members of PEN American Center, and many thousands more professional, semi-professional, vocational, apprentice, and recreational writers who share PEN’s concerns about expanding governmental intrusions into personal, creative space and shrinking public access to information about how the government is using new, post-9/11 powers.

For more than 80 years, PEN has worked on behalf of writers and others who have been imprisoned or persecuted for what they have said, what they have written, or what they have read. I myself have been the focus of considerable attention from PEN. In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa on my life, which is tantamount to a death sentence, for my novel, The Satanic Verses. In several countries, those who published this novel suffered boycotts and violent retribution. Many countries still forbid the reading and mere possession of my books.

Fortunately, this has not been the case in this country. The United States has led the world in promoting the same kind of open exploration of ideas that I have pursued in my work, and the same free exchange of information that PEN seeks to extend internationally. We at PEN have seen again and again how societies are weakened when the freedom of individuals to seek information and debate ideas has been limited. And we know from our own experiences as writers lucky enough to live in open societies like this one how those freedoms, when protected, fuel creativity and correct or prevent countless governmental mistakes or errors.

As an organization that has grappled with the impact of terrorism on freedom of expression and the right to write in many countries, our position is clear: PEN deplores terrorism and supports strong, targeted laws to confront this threat and prevent terrorist attacks. But PEN has also grappled with the impact of anti-terror and national security measures. We have witnessed how in many countries—including countries struggling with real and imminent terrorist threats—anti-terror laws exceeded their stated purpose and came to be used to consolidate power, cover government misconduct, and stifle dissent. As this trend worsened through the 1990s, the United States was frequently a powerful ally of PEN in challenging these developments.

Several measures enacted in the United States since September 11, 2001 including the USA PATRIOT Act contain elements that compromise core American values and put our country on shaky ground internationally. Some provisions have given federal authorities new power to monitor the daily activities of law-abiding U.S. citizens and residents and collect information on personal associations, reading habits, and opinions. Others have weakened the power of the American people to monitor government activities and slowed the flow of information and ideas. Some have even violated basic human rights standards and principles the United States helped formulate and promote internationally.

In the coming months, with many of the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act scheduled to expire, Congress will have the opportunity to review and improve anti-terror legislation so that it more effectively targets the terrorist activity and also better safeguards core freedoms. The 9/11 Commission has offered a useful guideline for evaluating the various provisions that will sunset next year: “The burden of proof for retaining a particular governmental power should be on the executive, to explain (a) that the power actually materially enhances security, and (b) that there is adequate supervision of the executive’s use of the powers to ensure protection of civil liberties.”

In the case of Section 215 and the new powers it gives federal authorities to review the library and bookstore records of ordinary Americans, the organizations represented here today believe that these crucial questions remain unanswered:

Why does the government need the power to search records of people who are not suspected of being terrorists or agents of a foreign government?

Why is it necessary that Section 215 orders be issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and not by courts where booksellers and librarians have the ability to challenge overly broad orders?

Why is it necessary to impose a gag order that prevents law-abiding citizens from learning that their records have come under scrutiny?

With the growing use of PATRIOT Act-authorized National Security Letters that allow federal investigators to seek records even without securing FISA-court orders, what guarantees exist that searches receive any independent review?

Why can’t the number of bookstore and library searches be made public?

The freedom to write begins with the freedom to read. Most of us owe our careers to local public libraries and bookstores, and to the individual librarians, teachers, and booksellers who encouraged us to ask questions and offered us both the materials and the space to pursue our own answers. In many countries of the world, gifts like these are almost inconceivable luxuries, but here they are guaranteed by the First Amendment, library confidentiality laws, and court decisions that have historically held in check the urge to seek investigative clues in the records of what people read. Section 215 has undermined these protections—and as these petitions make clear, readers are very justifiably worried. On behalf of these readers, and of writers, I want to thank Representative Sanders and Representative Barbara Lee for your leadership in addressing our concerns.