Book Groups Back Bill to Restore Privacy Protections

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Spurred by revelations of how the National Security Agency is collecting information on citizens, the Campaign for Reader Privacy has issued a statement calling for Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act. CRP, a joint initiative of the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center, said passage of the bill will restore privacy protections that were eliminated by the Patriot Act.

The Freedom Act (S. 1599/H.R. 3361) was introduced on October 29 by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in response to the news that the National Security Agency is using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records of the telephone calls made by Americans without regard to whether they are suspected of involvement in terrorism. Section 215 eliminated the requirement that the government show evidence of “individualized suspicion” before it can conduct a search in a terrorism investigation.

Since 2004, CPR has warned that Section 215 could be used to obtain the records of innocent Americans, including records of the books they purchase from bookstores or borrow from libraries. Supporters of the Patriot Act, including Rep. Sensenbrenner, argued that it would be used only to investigate someone suspected of terrorism. The revelations of former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, however, convinced Sensenbrenner and others that additional safeguards are needed to protect privacy. The Freedom Act would limit government searches to the records of people who are suspected terrorists and their associates.

“Consistent with booksellers’ long-time concern for protecting free speech, the American Booksellers Association is pleased to support the USA Freedom Act, legislation that we believe will help ensure that the First Amendment rights of American citizens will be protected,” Oren Teicher, ABA CEO, said.

“From the earliest days and throughout the long Patriot Act reauthorization fight publishers have been concerned about the threat to reader privacy posed by Section 215 and have sought some standard of individualized suspicion as the basis for obtaining a Section 215 order. With the USA Freedom Act we have a real opportunity to obtain that safeguard,” Tom Allen, AAP president and CEO, said.

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