(WASHINGTON, DC) The American Library Association (ALA) today praised improved reader privacy protections included in S. 1389 (the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005). The Senate bill, which was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on Friday, adds many of the safeguards for privacy of reading records that have been sought by the groups since the passage of the law in 2001, including tougher requirements for searching library and bookstore records under Section 215.
ALA welcomed passage of S. 1389, a bill they say is much stronger than the House version, H.R. 3199, which passed on July 21. The House legislation, which like the Senate bill re-authorizes expiring sections of the PATRIOT Act, allows the FBI to search the bookstore and library records of anyone, including people who are not suspected of a crime, whenever they are "relevant" to a counter-terrorism or counter-espionage investigation. The Senate bill limits searches to the records that pertain to people who are suspected terrorists or spies and people who are in contact with them, reducing the danger that that the FBI will engage in fishing expeditions in bookstore and library records.
The Senate bill extends the section affecting bookstore and library records, Section 215, for only four years, while the House bill extends it 10 years. A shorter sunset ensures more oversight by Congress.
S. 1389 further strengthens key reader protections by allowing a bookseller, librarian, or anyone else who receives a search order under Section 215 to consult an attorney and to challenge the order in court. It requires an FBI agent to obtain written approval from the FBI Director or Deputy Director before applying for a Section 215 order for library or bookstore records. The legislation requires records sought to be described with “sufficient particularity” to allow them to be identified. The Justice Department would also have to report annually the number of bookstore and library searches it has conducted under Section 215.
“We are pleased that the Senate has unanimously consented to restore so many key reader privacy protections,” said Michael Gorman, President of the American Library Association. “We hope that the restorations of civil liberties made by the Senate will be preserved in the Conference Committee.”