Washington, DC- Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), members of the American Library
Association and Representatives from the American Booksellers Foundation for Free
Expression announced at a press conference today the introduction of Sanders’
“Freedom to Read Protection Act.” The legislation would exempt libraries
and booksellers from provisions of the USA Patriot Act that allow the federal
government to access library or bookstore records without having to get a traditional
search warrant. Sanders and other congressional sponsors of the bill believe that
the legislation is needed to protect Americans’ constitutionally guaranteed
right to read and access information without governmental intrusion or monitoring.
Sanders said, “All of us are concerned about terrorism and all of us
are determined to do all that we can to protect the American people from another
terrorist attack. But, the threat of terrorism must not be used as an excuse
by the government to intrude on our basic constitutional rights. We can fight
terrorism, but we can do it at the same time as we protect the civil liberties
that have made our country great.”
Specifically, Sanders’ legislation would exempt libraries and bookstores
from Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the
person whose records are being searched by the FBI can be anyone. The FBI doesn’t
even have to say that it believes the person they are investigating is involved
in criminal activity or that the person is connected to a foreign power.
Even more frightening, the FBI can investigate American citizens based in part
on an American’s exercise of his or her First Amendment Rights, such as
writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper or reading books the government
may not approve of.
The Freedom to Read Protection Act is being introduced by 24 members of Congress
including Republican Ron Paul of Texas, and Congressman John Conyers, the Ranking
Member of the House Judiciary Committee. Sixty-two cities and towns from across
America have passed resolutions on this issue.
Sanders concluded, “Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the person
whose records are being searched by the FBI can be anyone. The FBI doesn’t
even have to say that it believes the person is involved in criminal activity
or that the person is connected to a foreign power. This is not acceptable.
The legislation we are introducing today will go a long away in protecting the
basic freedoms of every American.”