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Book groups praise reader privacy protections in House Patriot Act bill

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - Washington, DC, October 22, 2009 - The Campaign for Reader Privacy today welcomed a new House bill that will restore important reader privacy protections that were eliminated eight years ago by the USA Patriot Act. The USA Patriot Amendments Act of 2009 (H.R. 3845), introduced on October 20 by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), and Committee members Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), prohibits the use of Patriot Act Section 215 searches to obtain documentary materials from a library or bookstore that contain personally identifiable information about a patron or customer. The provision would effectively bar the government from engaging in fishing expeditions to identify people who are reading "suspicious" books.

Section 215 allows the FBI to secretly obtain any "tangible thing," including any business records that are "relevant" to an ongoing investigation. It can be used to search the records of people who are not suspected of any criminal acts. Congress is now debating changes in Section 215 and other provisions of the Patriot Act that expire in December, which presents a unique opportunity to remedy the serious threat to reader privacy in the current provision.

On October 8, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1892, which reauthorizes Section 215 for four years. The bill contains additional protections for the privacy of library records but fails to extend that protection to bookstore records. The introduction of H.R. 3845 means that the House will give serious consideration to protecting reader privacy in both libraries and bookstores. "Notably, the bill would allow Americans to use libraries and bookstores without fear that their choice of books will be monitored by overzealous federal agents," Congressman Nadler said in a press release Wednesday.

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 shoulders.

For more information on the Campaign for Reader Privacy, please click here

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