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Government reading over citizen's shoulders

The USA Patriot Amendments Act of 2009 introduced on 20 October prohibits the U.S. government from carrying out searches to monitor its citizens' choice of books from libraries and bookstores, reports the Pen American Center, a member of the Campaign for Reader Privacy.

S. 215 of the Patriot Act permits the Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly collect data from a library or bookstore that reveals personal information about a patron or customer, reports the Pen American Center, even if an individual is not suspected of any criminal acts.

According to the Pen American Center, on 8 October, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1892, which re-authorises S. 215 for four years. The bill contains extra protections for the privacy of library records but does not extend that protection to bookstore records. The introduction of H.R. 3845 means that the House will seriously discuss protecting reader privacy in both libraries and bookstores.

Congress is now debating changes in S. 215 and other provisions of the Patriot Act that expire in December, offering a possibility to change this critical threat to reader privacy.

The Campaign for Reader Privacy was organised in 2004 by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers and PEN American Center "to ensure that Americans can purchase and borrow books without fear that the government is reading over their shoulders."

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