ABFE Signs Letters in Support of PATRIOT Act Reforms

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On May 25, the American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) joined a coalition of free speech and privacy groups in sending a letter to House leadership calling for the inclusion of an important privacy-protective amendment in the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020 (H.R. 6172).

The privacy amendment, introduced by Senators Daines and Wyden, prohibits the use of Section 215 for warrantless surveillance of internet search and browsing history of people in the United States. The amendment would make clear, in accordance with multiple court rulings, that internet browsing and search history cannot be collected under Section 215, given that it does not require the government to meet a probable cause standard.

The letter, spearheaded by Demand Progress, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and FreedomWorks, was in response to a May 13 Senate vote in which the Wyden-Daines amendment failed by one vote. Although the vote failed, a bipartisan majority of 59 Senators (24 Republicans and 35 Democrats) voted in support of the amendment. Further, two additional Democratic Senators would have voted in support of the amendment, but were unable to attend the vote.

“Thankfully, support for the underlying policy is now abundantly clear, both within Congress and among the public: the FBI should not be allowed to use the PATRIOT Act to surveil our online activity without a warrant. Internet search and browsing history is extremely revealing in nature and the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to obtain this information,” the groups stated in their letter.

The letter continues, “Given the government’s failure to disclose whether it believes it can collect this information under Section 215 already, the bright-line rule reflected in the Wyden/Daines amendment is sorely needed.”

Earlier this month, ABFE joined a similar coalition urging the Senate to support three privacy-protective amendments, including the Wyden-Daines amendment.

On March 15, three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities expired: Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the “lone wolf” authority, and the “roving wiretap” authority. The USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020 would extend these expired authorities until 2023.

In its letter to House leadership, the coalition emphasized that with the inclusion of the Wyden-Daines amendment, the bill is likely to pass with more support than before. “This would be a welcome moment of bipartisan agreement, in defense of all Americans’ liberties, during a trying period in our history...The decision to seize this moment in defense of Americans’ civil liberties is exclusively in your hands,” the letter concluded.

The House is expected to vote on the bill this week.

Read the most recent letter in full here and the earlier letter in full here.