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

New York, NY, May 3, 2004—In a letter made public today, PEN American Center is calling on President George W. Bush to lead an open, bipartisan evaluation of individual provisions of the Act that are scheduled to sunset in 2005, including Section 215, which opens records of individual reading activities to government scrutiny.

“It’s time to let President Bush know that he should listen to representatives from both parties who have serious concerns about many of the provisions coming up for review in 2005,” said Larry Siems, director of PEN’s Freedom to Write and International Programs. “The sunset provisions are part of the law; they were built in to ensure that Congress would look carefully both at how the elements of the law are working to thwart terrorism and whether particular provisions are compromising essential liberties. The President and everyone who is interested in constructing the best possible legal defenses against terrorism should support and participate openly in this process.”

Among the provisions scheduled to expire in 2004 is Section 215,which amends and greatly expands the scope of the 1978 Foreign Information Surveillance Act, by granting the FBI the power to access and review “any tangible thing,” including bookstore and library records. Under Section 215, investigators can seek records even of individuals not suspected of terrorism, and a gag provision prevents institutions from disclosing that their records have been examined. Like many sectors of the literary community, PEN fears that such sweeping authority threatens the privacy necessary for law-abiding citizens and residents to explore controversial information and ideas.

While endorsing strong, targeted measures to confront terrorism and prevent terrorist attacks, PEN is pressing for refinements and improvements to the USA PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 security measures to protect privacy, ensure public access to government information, and comply with international law and human rights covenants. PEN’s letter, which is co-signed by PEN American Center President Salman Rushdie asks the President to use his office to “protect and promote a critical and open review of the sunset provisions, one that acknowledges the shared commitment of all participants to the security and safety of U.S. citizens, residents, and interests and that allows for changes born of wisdom and experience.”

PEN American Center, the professional organization of over 2,600 literary writers, is the largest in a global network of 138 centers around the world comprising International PEN. PEN’s mission is to promote literature and protect free expression whenever writers or their works are threatened. To advocate for free speech in the United States, PEN mobilizes the literary community to apply its leverage through sign-on letter campaigns, direct appeals to policy makers, participation in lawsuits and amicus curiae briefs, briefings of elected officials, awards for First Amendment defenders, and public events.

Click here to read the letter to President Bush.

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