Washington, DC, February 1, 2011—As debate begins in Washington again over the reauthorization of sections of the USA Patriot Act that expire on February 28, the Campaign for Reader Privacy, representing librarians, booksellers, authors and publishers, urged its supporters today to ask their members of Congress to support the restoration of the safeguards for reader privacy that were eliminated by the Patriot Act in 2001.

The Patriot Act authorizes the FBI to obtain secret orders to search any business or organization, including bookstores and libraries, whenever it is seeking records that are “relevant” to a national security investigation, including the records of people who are not suspected of criminal conduct. The Campaign for Reader Privacy is urging Congress to limit Patriot Act searches of bookstores and libraries to the records of “agents of a foreign power,” including suspected terrorists, and people who are known to them.

The Campaign has endorsed a bill reintroduced last week by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009 when Congress last considered reauthorization. It provides important safeguards for library records.  However, it does not provide additional protection for bookstore records.

Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, called on Congress to protect the privacy of reader records in bookstores as well as libraries. “We appreciate the heightened protection afforded library records for those Americans who borrow books,” she said. “The next logical step would be to safeguard the First Amendment rights of Americans who purchase books in a bookstore. In both instances, reader privacy must be maintained.”

The Campaign for Reader Privacy urges its supporters to contact their representatives in the House and the Senate. In the Senate, they should urge amendments to the Leahy bill to provide equal protection for library and bookstore records. In the House, where the only bill introduced so far calls for a one-year extension of the Patriot Act without any changes, they should demand substantive reform that will protect reader privacy.

In contacting their representatives, reader privacy advocates can strengthen their arguments by citing a recent letter from Attorney General Eric Holder. On December 9, 2010, in response to Leahy’s request, Holder promised to implement many of the reforms that were contained in Leahy’s 2009 reauthorization bill, including the provision strengthening reader privacy. Holder said the added protections would apply to both libraries and bookstores. “Taken together, I believe these measures will advance the goals of…enhancing the privacy and civil liberties our citizens enjoy without compromising our ability to keep our nation safe and secure,” Holder wrote.

Supporters of reader privacy should tell their representatives that they can vote for these changes knowing that the Attorney General of the United States has said that they do not threaten national security and actually enhance privacy and civil liberties.

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. For more information, visit www.readerprivacy.org

Oren Teicher, ABA, (800) 637-0037, ext. 6611
Lynne Bradley, ALA, (800) 941-8478
Judith Platt, AAP, (202) 220-4551
Larry Siems, PEN, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105