Washington, DC, September 25, 2009—The Campaign for Reader Privacy, a coalition of organizations representing librarians, booksellers, authors, and publishers, welcomed the introduction of legislation that will safeguard the First Amendment reader privacy rights of ordinary Americans by reforming provisions of the USA Patriot Act, some of which are due to expire at the end of 2009.

Two separate bills have been introduced in the Senate: the Justice Act of 2009, introduced on September 17 by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and eight others, and a bill introduced on September 22 by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), and co-sponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Ted Kaufman (D-DE).

Three Patriot Act provisions, including Section 215, which is of primary concern to the Campaign for Reader Privacy, are due to sunset on December 31, 2009.  The Feingold/Durbin bill would reauthorize the use of Section 215 orders to obtain business records, but would tighten the standard to require that the records be connected to an individual suspected of terrorism or espionage. The present standard only requires the records to be “relevant” to an ongoing investigation. In addition to strengthening judicial oversight of Section 215 orders and their accompanying gag order, the Feingold/Durbin bill also addresses the National Security Letter (NSL) provision, which is not due to sunset at the end of the year, by replacing the standard of “relevance” with a standard of individualized suspicion, requiring the government to have reason to believe the records relate to an individual with a connection to terrorism or espionage.

The Leahy/Cardin/Kaufman bill would reauthorize the use of Section 215 orders for four years and tighten the standard to require that records sought are relevant to an investigation and, at minimum, pertain to a suspected agent of a foreign power. Also addressing the NSL provision, the Leahy/Cardin/Kaufman bill would tighten the standard to require a factual showing of relevance to an authorized investigation, and would mandate new audits by the Justice Department Inspector General on the use of NSLs and Section 215 orders to prevent a recurrence of the type of abuses that were brought to light in previous IG reports. The bill would also add a new four-year expiration on National Security Letters.

“Thanks to the diligence of the Inspector General, we now know a great deal more about abuses of the National Security Letter authority and potential abuses of Section 215 than we did when we first started,” said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, speaking on behalf of the Campaign coalition. “The legislative momentum provided by the December 31 sunset offers the perfect opportunity to put safeguards in place that will protect the basic First Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. We’re pleased to see that process underway and hope that booksellers, librarians, publishers and authors will make their voices heard by urging their own senators to co-sponsor the bills.”

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 to fight for changes in the Patriot Act to protect the confidentiality of reading records. The Campaign has been pressing Congress to establish an individualized standard of suspicion 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.

Larry Siems, PEN American Center, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105
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