New York, NY, January 25, 2006—PEN joined organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers, and writers today in delivering a letter to members of the House and Senate urging them not to re-authorize the sections of the USA PATRIOT Act that are due to expire on Feb. 3 without adding additional safeguards for the privacy of bookstore and library records. “Congress is fortunate to have another opportunity to make critical changes to Section 215 and other expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act,” the letter said.

Section 215, which gives the FBI authority to search business records, and a number of other provisions of the PATRIOT Act were due to expire on December 31, 2005. However, the House and Senate failed to agree on a conference report that compromised the differences between the House and Senate re-authorization bills. The Senate bill was far more protective of reader privacy than the House bill, and 47 Senators refused to go along with a move to shut off debate, preventing Republican leaders from bringing the conference report to a vote. A five-week extension of the expiring sections was approved to allow negotiations to continue.

It is not clear whether a new compromise will be presented before Feb. 3 or whether another short extension will be approved. The House has scheduled a vote on re-authorization for Feb. 1. The Senate has not announced a date but must act before midnight on the 3rd.

The letter to Congress from members of the Campaign for Reader Privacy called for the addition of three provisions to any re-authorization legislation: a requirement that the person whose records are sought be suspected of terrorism; a provision authorizing booksellers and librarians to challenge Section 215 orders in court; and a limit on the gag orders that are imposed on booksellers and librarians who receive Section 215 orders.

Read the letter to Congress

Larry Siems,  (212) 334-1660 ext. 105 or [email protected]