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Book community urges Congress to restore safeguards for bookstore and library records

(PEN American Center/IFEX) - Wsahington, DC, May 17, 2011 - With a key Patriot Act provision set to expire next week, the Campaign for Reader Privacy is asking supporters to urge their members of Congress to reject a six-year extension of the provision which gives the government intrusive powers to search library and bookstore records and to pass a bill containing additional safeguards for First Amendment-protected reader privacy.

The Patriot Act authorizes the FBI to obtain secret orders to search any business or organization, including bookstores and libraries, whenever it is seeking records that are "relevant" to a national security investigation, including the records of people who are not suspected of criminal conduct. The Campaign for Reader Privacy is urging Congress to limit Patriot Act searches of bookstores and libraries to the records of "agents of a foreign power," including suspected terrorists, and their known associates.

With several Patriot Act provisions expiring this year, booksellers, librarians, publishers, and authors want the public to soundly reject H.R. 1800, legislation that would extend the bookstore and library search provision for another six years, and to instead support H.R. 1805/S. 193, bills offered in the House by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would extend some provisions but limit searches in bookstores and libraries to the records of people who are actually suspected of terrorism or other crimes. Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder expressed his support for additional protections such as those contained in the Conyers and Leahy bills, saying "Taken together, I believe these measures will advance the goals of enhancing the privacy and civil liberties our citizens enjoy without compromising our ability to keep our nation safe and secure."

"Simply put, the powers that the Patriot Act gave the government to monitor what law-abiding citizens are reading have proven to be both prone to abuse and unnecessary, and it is time to restore our full faith that our government is not reading over our shoulders," said Larry Siems, Director of the Freedom to Write Program at PEN American Center. "The Campaign for Reader Privacy strongly supports H.R. 1805/S. 193, which at last will limit Patriot Act searches in bookstores and libraries to those who are actually suspected of terrorism or other criminal activities, and we are asking readers everywhere to take a moment this week to urge their representatives to vote against a blanket extension and for these crucial protections."

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 shoulder. For more information, visit http://www.readerprivacy.org

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