Campaign for Reader Privacy Renews Call to Amend Patriot Act

Today, organizations representing booksellers, librarians, publishers, and authors called on Congress to pass legislation to restore privacy protections for bookstore and library records that were stripped by the Patriot Act as a first step toward reining in what the group calls “runaway surveillance programs.”

Read the full statement released today by the Campaign for Reader Privacy, a joint initiative of the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center:

Two years ago, Congress voted to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act without addressing weaknesses in the law that allow the government to gather information about law-abiding citizens’ private lives. It did so despite evidence that Section 215 and other post-9/11 surveillance powers were being abused.

Just how serious the abuses have been is now clear:

  • We now know that Section 215 was used to compile records of the phone calls of Verizon business customers and the customers of other major U.S. telecommunications carriers—without regard to whether those customers were suspected of involvement in terrorism or any other illegal activity.
  • We know that the National Security Agency conducted other programs that included collecting metadata about Internet communications without warrants or probable cause—even after the Bush administration’s own attorney general refused to reauthorize one such program on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
  • We know that the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court not only has approved virtually every government application to exercise its massive surveillance powers, but has also issued opinions regarding the legality of those new spying powers that remain secret and shielded from public and constitutional review.

Since 2004, the Campaign for Reader Privacy, which represents librarians, booksellers, authors and publishers, has been working to restore protections to guard the confidentiality of bookstore and library records that were stripped under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Two years ago, Democratic and Republican members of Congress introduced a bill requiring the government to show that those whose reading records it wishes to gather are actually suspected of criminal activity—something that is required by the Fourth Amendment, which protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the First Amendment, which guards our right to access information of our own choosing. But Congress ignored that bill and reauthorized what we now know are flawed, dangerous powers.

It is time to correct that mistake—and to start reining in our government’s runaway surveillance programs. The Campaign for Reader Privacy calls on Congress and on the President to take the first step by passing legislation this year that will restore privacy protections for book sales and library lending records. What law-abiding Americans are reading is nobody’s business.

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.”

Lynne works in the ALA Washington Office and is director of ALA's Office of Government Relations.

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Posted in Government Information, Intellectual Freedom, Legislation, OGR

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