In late July, the House voted 309-118 to support an amendment by Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-ID) to the FY 2004 appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary (H.R. 2799). Sec. 213, the so-called "sneak and peak" provision of the "USA Patriot Act," allows the government to search a person's home or office without notification. These new powers are not limited to terrorism related cases but can be used in all criminal investigations. The Otter amendment bars law enforcement from spending any funds to perform such search or seizure orders unless the targets are told in advance.
In addition, the House also approved an amendment to the FY 2004 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that prevents any funds from being used to search a library or bookstore under Sec. 215 of the "USA Patriot Act." The language of the amendment is similar to the "Freedom to Read Protection Act" (H.R. 1157), introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), that currently has 141 bipartisan cosponsors in the House. Sec. 215 allows law enforcement to get an order to search the library or bookstore records, including circulation records, Internet usage records, and computer hard drives, of anyone whom they believe has information that may be relevant to a terrorism investigation, without having to show that the person whose records are sought is involved in criminal or terrorist activity.
Rep. Otter, Rep. Sanders and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) have just sent out a "Dear Colleagues" letter,entitled "Restore Your Constituents' Civil Liberties Protections Before Congress Adjourns!" It urges House members to sign onto a letter that will be sent to the conferees of the FY 2004 Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill or an omnibus appropriations bill that includes language protecting our civil liberties.
The letter urges conferees to either accept the amendments as already passed by the House to "fix" Sec. 213 and Sec. 215, or to consider incorporating language from the "Security and Freedom Ensured Act" or "SAFE Act" (H.R. 3352/S. 1709) that serves the same goals.
Please call your representative today through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 to urge him/her to sign onto the Otter/Sanders/Conyers letter to conferees. A copy of their "Dear Colleagues" letter is available at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's web site at: http://bordc.org/dearcoll1103.pdf.
Thank you very much,
Janis L. Johnston
American Association of Law Libraries