Washington, DC, October 15, 2009—Groups representing librarians, booksellers, authors, and publishers, who have been working together for five years to restore the safeguards for reader privacy that were eliminated by the USA Patriot Act, are urging Congress to expand proposed protections for library records to encompass all books, whether borrowed or purchased. Calling draft revisions to the Patriot Act “positive but inadequate,” the groups, speaking as the Campaign for Reader Privacy, today called on Congress to address the root causes of public concern about Patriot Act powers that afford the government easy access to information about what people are reading.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire at the end of the year, allows the FBI to obtain any “tangible thing,” including any business records that are “relevant” to an ongoing investigation. In approving legislation extending Section 215 for another four years, the Senate Judiciary Committee last week acknowledged privacy concerns by providing additional protections for library records. A Section 215 order can be used to obtain “library records or patron lists,” only when those records pertain directly to someone suspected of terrorism or espionage. However, this added protection would not apply to the records of bookstore customers. They can still be searched even when the customer is not suspected of criminal conduct.

“Although we appreciate the heightened protection afforded library records, in the interest of safeguarding reader privacy and preventing the government from reading over the shoulders of law-abiding Americans, this protection must extend to booksellers’ title-specific sales records,” said Tom Allen, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers. “It makes no sense to safeguard the First Amendment rights of Americans who borrow books while denying that protection to Americans who buy their books. In both instances, reader privacy must be maintained.”

The Campaign for Reader Privacy has endorsed the JUSTICE Act of 2009 (S, 1686), a bill introduced by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). S. 1686 addresses a range of civil liberties concerns about the Patriot Act, including the abuses of National Security Letters (NSLs) documented by the Justice Department’s Inspector General. It provides protections for both bookstore and library records.

The Campaign urges its supporters to contact their members of Congress in both the House and the Senate. In the Senate, they can urge support for floor amendments that implement the reforms called for by S. 1686. In the House, where the Judiciary Committee will soon consider its own reauthorization bill, they can demand that reader privacy be protected in both bookstores and libraries.

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 shoulder. It has pressed Congress to limit Patriot Act searches to the records of people who are suspected of terrorism and to make it easier for librarians and booksellers to challenge NSL and Section 215 orders in court and limit the length and scope of the accompanying gag orders. For more information, please visit www.readerprivacy.org

  Related Articles

• September 25, 2009: Reader Privacy Advocates Welcome Patriot Act Reform Measures

• April 7, 2009: Book Groups Launch New Effort to Amend Patriot Act

Larry Siems, PEN American Center, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org
Oren Teicher, American Booksellers Association, (800) 637-0037 ext. 6661
Lynne Bradley, American Library Association, (800) 941-8478
Judith Platt, Association of American Publishers, (202) 220-4551