The Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157)
May 15, 2003
Our society places the highest value on the ability to speak freely on any subject. But freedom of speech depends on the freedom to explore ideas privately. Bookstore customers and library patrons must feel free to seek out books on health, religion, politics, the law, or any subject they choose, without fear that the government is looking over their shoulder. Without the assurance that their reading choices will remain private, they will be reluctant to fully exercise their right to read freely.
Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act threatens bookstore and library privacy. FBI agents do not need to prove they have "probable cause" before searching bookstore or library records: they can get access to the records of anyone whom they believe to have information that may be relevant to a terrorism investigation, including people who are not suspected of committing a crime or of having any knowledge of a crime. The request for an order authorizing the search is heard by a secret court in a closed proceeding, making it impossible for a bookseller or librarian to have the opportunity to object on First Amendment grounds prior to the execution of the order. Because the order contains a gag provision forbidding a bookseller or librarian from alerting anyone to the fact that a search has occurred, it would be difficult to protest the search even after the fact.
The organizations listed below strongly support the Freedom to Read Protection Act of 2003 (H.R. 1157). Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 6 by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), H.R. 1157 strengthens protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records. Law enforcement officials will still be able to subpoena bookstore and library records crucial to an investigation, but the courts will exercise their normal scrutiny in reviewing these requests.
We applaud Congressman Sanders and the Democratic and Republican sponsors and co-sponsors of H.R. 1157. They have shown great courage by defending civil liberties during a time of crisis.
American Association of Law Libraries
American Booksellers Association
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Library Association
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Association of American Publishers
Association of American University Presses
Association of Booksellers for Children
Children's Book Council
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Florida Publishers Association
Freedom to Read Foundation
Great Lakes Booksellers Association
Medical Library Association
Mid-South Independent Booksellers Association
Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association
Mystery Writers of America
National Association of College Stores
New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association
New England Booksellers Association
Northern California Independent Booksellers Assn.
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
PEN American Center
PEN USA West
Publishers Association of the South
Publishers Association of the West
Publishers Marketing Association
Southeast Booksellers Association
Southern California Booksellers Association
Special Libraries Association
Upper Midwest Booksellers Association
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Borders Group Inc.