Washington, DC, March 3, 2010—The Campaign for Reader Privacy today declared that progress is being made in the fight to restore the safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records that were eliminated by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. While Congressional action last week extending Section 215 and two other expiring provisions for a year without any changes was viewed in some quarters as a setback for civil liberties, the Campaign believes that developments in 2009 have laid a strong legislative foundation for securing significant new protections for library circulation and bookstore sales records when the debate over re-authorization resumes later this year.

“For the first time since  passage of the Patriot Act in 2001, the House and Senate leadership agreed on the importance of protecting reader privacy,” Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said. “In a few months, we will pick up the fight where we left off. We think we will have a good chance of winning the changes that we have been pursuing for more than eight years.”

When Congress passed the Patriot Act, it incorporated a sunset provision, insuring that the portions of the law posing the greatest threat to civil liberties would expire unless periodically renewed. A major battle over reauthorization took place in 2005 and early 2006, and a number of important changes were made. Congress granted bookstores and libraries receiving Section 215 orders the right to consult an attorney and challenge the orders in court. But concerns remain about the law’s potential chilling effect on First Amendment rights and reader privacy because the government retains the right to secretly search the records of anyone who it believes is relevant to a terrorist investigation.

Last year the Senate and House Judiciary Committees passed re-authorization bills that provided additional protections for bookstore and library records. The House bill prohibited the use of Section 215 to search the records of a library patron or bookstore customer unless there are “specific and articulable facts” to show that the person is “a suspected agent of a foreign power” or someone who is in contact or known to the suspected agent. The Senate bill provided enhanced protections for library patrons.

Unable to consider the legislation before the December 31 expiration date, Congress voted a two-month extension. Changes in the mood on Capitol Hill resulting from the failed attempt to bomb an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day and other developments convinced supporters of Patriot Act reform that the timing was inopportune for debate over a full reauthorization measure. The one-year temporary extension (the new expiration date is February 28, 2011) will provide breathing room for the Campaign for Reader Privacy and others seeking greater protections for civil liberties to realign and reinvigorate their lobbying efforts.

The Campaign believes that the proposed protections for bookstore and library records do not pose an impediment to anti-terrorism or law enforcement activities and remains confident that Congress will move forward on this important legislation this year.

The Campaign for Reader Privacy was organized in 2004 by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center. Its goal is to ensure that Americans can purchase and borrow books without fear that the government is reading over their shoulders. For more information, please visit www.readerprivacy.org

Dan Cullen, American Booksellers Association, (914) 591-2665,  ext. 6660
Lynne Bradley, American Library Association, (800) 941-8478
Judith Platt, Association of American Publishers, (202) 220-4551
Larry Siems, PEN American Center, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org