(WASHINGTON) Today, in a stunning 238-187 victory, Rep. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) amendment to the House Science-State-Justice Subcommittee (SSJC) appropriations bill passed. The appropriations bill funds the Justice Department and Sanders’ amendment bars the Department from using any of the appropriated money to search library and bookstore records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Like the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) also sponsored by Congressman Sanders, the Sanders Freedom to Read Amendment restores legal standards and warrant procedures for investigations of library and bookstore records that were in place before passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. The text of the amendment reads, “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to make an application under section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1861) for an order requiring the production of library circulation records, library patron lists, book sales records, or book customer lists.”
Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act dramatically expanded the scope of materials the FBI can access with a warrant from the government's secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or "FISA" court. This section gives the FBI the power to search for any "tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)" in any location without having to name the subject of the search, permitting “fishing expeditions” in library records. Millions of people across the country, including librarians and booksellers, are concerned about the chilling effect of this legislation, which encourages users to self-censor their reading choices. Seven state legislatures, 44 state library associations, and 381 cities and towns representing nearly 62 million people have passed resolutions expressing their concerns with Section 215 and other specific provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.
“Library patrons should be thrilled that their champion, Congressman Sanders, has finally prevailed,” said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA Washington Office. “People from every political persuasion supported this amendment, and we are grateful that members of the House listened to librarians’ concerns.”