New York, NY, February 17, 2004—Groups representing booksellers, librarians and writers today launched a nationwide effort to obtain one million signatures in support of legislation to amend Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The groups hope to persuade Congress to restore safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records that were eliminated by the Act.

The Campaign for Reader Privacy—sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association and PEN American Center—will gather signatures in bookstores, libraries and on a new Web site, www.readerprivacy.org. Over the last year, Republicans, Democrats and Independents have joined to sponsor a number of bills to amend Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, including the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R.1157) and the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act, S. 1709.

“Booksellers are deeply concerned about the chilling effect of Section 215 and President Bush’s stated intent to seek blanket reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act,” said ABA Chief Operating Officer Oren Teicher.

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to give the FBI vastly expanded authority to search business records, including the records of bookstores and libraries: the FBI may request the records secretly; it is not required to prove that there is “probable cause” to believe the person whose records are being sought has committed a crime; and the bookseller or librarian who receives an order is prohibited from revealing it to anyone except those whose help is needed to produce the records.

“This isn’t about stripping law enforcement of the power to investigate terrorism. It’s about restoring confidence that our reading choices aren’t being monitored by the government,” said Larry Siems, director of PEN’s Freedom to Write Program.

The Bush administration opposes changes in Section 215. Attorney General John Ashcroft has characterized concern over the privacy of bookstore and library records as “hysteria.” In his State of the Union message on January 20, President George Bush called on Congress to reauthorize the provisions of the PATRIOT Act that are due to expire at the end of next year, including Section 215. More than 253 anti-PATRIOT Act resolutions have been passed nationwide in states, counties, cities and small towns – including New York City, Kansas City, Mo., and Valencia County, N.M., in just the last two weeks.

“Our concerns about privacy are far from hysterical. The federal government has attempted to monitor library records before and it seems inevitable that they will use Section 215 to try again,” said Judith F. Krug, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

To demonstrate the unity of the book and library community, the groups also released a statement of support for proposed legislation that amends Section 215. The statement is signed by 40 organizations representing virtually every bookstore, library and writer in the country as well as 81 individual companies, including Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Borders Group, Inc., Ingram Book Group, Random House, Simon & Schuster and Holtzbrinck Publishers.

To see the statement online, click here

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Book and Library Community Statement Supporting
The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157)
The Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158)
The Library, Bookseller and Personal Data Privacy Act (S. 1507)

Our society places the highest value on the ability to speak freely on any subject. But freedom of speech depends on the freedom to explore ideas privately. Bookstore customers and library patrons must feel free to seek out books on health, religion, politics, the law, or any subject they choose, without fear that the government is looking over their shoulder. Without the assurance that their reading choices will remain private, they will be reluctant to fully exercise their right to read freely.

Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act threatens bookstore and library privacy. FBI agents do not need to prove they have “probable cause” before searching bookstore or library records: they can obtain the records of anyone whom they believe to have information that may be relevant to a terrorism investigation, including people who are not suspected of committing a crime or of having any knowledge of a crime. The request for an order authorizing the search is heard by a secret court in a closed proceeding, making it impossible for a bookseller or librarian to object on First Amendment grounds prior to the execution of the order. Because the order contains a gag provision forbidding a bookseller or librarian from alerting anyone to the fact that a search has occurred, it would be difficult to protest the search even after the fact.

The organizations listed below strongly support federal legislation that addresses this problem: the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), the Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158) and the Library, Bookseller and Personal Data Privacy Act (S. 1507). These bills strengthen protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records without preventing the FBI from obtaining crucial information. Under H.R. 1157 and S. 1158, the courts would exercise their normal scrutiny in reviewing requests for bookstore and library records. S. 1507 allows the FBI to follow the procedures authorized by Section 215 but limits searches to the records of “foreign agents” engaged in acts of terrorism or espionage.

We applaud the authors of these bills, U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders (H.R. 1157), Senator Barbara Boxer (S. 1158) and Senator Russell D. Feingold (S. 1507) as well as the Democratic and Republican sponsors and co-sponsors of this legislation. They have shown great courage by defending civil liberties during a time of crisis.

American Association of Law Libraries
American Booksellers Association
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Library Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Association of American Publishers
Association of American University Presses
Association of Booksellers for Children
Authors Guild
California Library Association
Children’s Book Council
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Florida Publishers Association
Freedom to Read Foundation
Great Lakes Booksellers Association
Illinois Library Association
Medical Library Association
Mid-South Independent Booksellers Association
Minnesota Library Association
Montana Library Association
Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association
National Association of Independent Publishers Representatives
New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
New England Booksellers Association
New York Library Association
Northern California Independent Booksellers Assn.
Pacific Northwest Independent Booksellers Assn.
PEN American Center
PEN New England
PEN USA West
Publishers Association of the West
Publishers Marketing Association
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
Small Press Center
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Southeast Booksellers Association
Southern California Booksellers Association
Special Libraries Association
Upper Midwest Booksellers Association
Virginia Library Association

96 Inc.
Abebooks
Academy Chicago Publishers
Akashic Books
Aliform Publishing
A. Pankovich Publishers
Arte Público Press
Avalon Publishing Group
Avocet Press Inc.
Baker & Taylor
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Beacon Press
Borders Group Inc.
Capital Books
Cat’s-paw Press
Center for Thanatology Research & Education, Inc.
Chicory Blue Press
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
Cornell Maritime Press & Tidewater Publishers
Darwin Press
Devenish Press
Duke University Press
The Feminist Press at the City University of New York
First Books & Inkwater Press
FoulkeTale Publishing
Four Walls Eight Windows
Fugue State Press
Fulcrum Publishing
Gival Press, LLC
Green Map System
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Holtzbrinck Publishers
Houghton Mifflin
Humanics Publishing Group
International Publishers Co., Inc.
Independent Booksellers Consortium, Inc.
Ingram Book Group
Inkwell Books
Island Press
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Lee Stookey Books
Lynne Rienner Publishers
Mountain Empire Publications
Mountaintop Books
New York University Press
North Country Books
Patria Press, Inc.
Pelican Island Publishing
Penington Press
Pocahontas Press
Plum Branch Press
Princeton University Press
PublishingGame.com/Peanut Butter and Jelly Press
Rainbow Books, Inc.
Random House, Inc.
Red Dust, Inc.
Red Rock Press
Rexdale Publishing Company
Sem Fronteiras Press
Seven Stories Press
Shambling Gate Press
Simon & Schuster
Snake Nation Press
Southern Illinois University Press
Square One Publishers
Star Bright Books
Stein Software Corporation
Surrey Books
Turtle Books
Trafalgar Square
University Press of Colorado
VaiVecchio Press
Viveca Smith Publishing
Walker & Company
Wesleyan University Press
Wild Horizons Publishing, Inc.
Wildcat Press
Winged Willow Press
The Winstead Press Ltd.
Workman Publishing
Yale University Press

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org