Reader Privacy Bill Moves Forward in Senate

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The fight to restore safeguards for reader privacy that were eliminated by the USA Patriot Act took an important step forward last week when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation barring the FBI from using the Patriot Act to search bookstore and library records unless they relate to a suspected terrorist or someone known to the suspect. The committee vote was 10 - 7, with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) joining nine Democrats to approve the measure.

The fight now moves to the Senate floor where the bill, the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 (S. 193), will be brought to a vote sometime before the end of May. That is when several Patriot Act provisions – including Section 215, which affects bookstores and libraries – are set to expire.

The Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP) – whose members include the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center – is urging supporters to ask their senators to support S. 193. (Find Senate contact information here.)

The House also considered Patriot reauthorization last week, during a Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime. On February 18, the House defeated a floor amendment offered by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) that would have banned the use of the Patriot Act to search bookstore and library records. CRP noted that the vote, 196 - 231, was closer than expected. Thirty-two Republicans voted for the measure. In 2005, when then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the same amendment, it garnered only 27 Republican votes.