Boston Globe on Opposition to USA Patriot Act Section 215

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In "Reading Over Your Shoulder," a March 9 article by staff writer David Mehegan, the Boston Globe provided readers with a clear picture of efforts to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act by a broad spectrum of groups that spans the left and the right.

"The push is on to shelve part of the Patriot Act," the article stated, pointing out that "253 cities and towns across the country have passed nonbinding resolutions expressing opposition to [Section 215]" and that discontent about Section 215 "flamed up last month when the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, and the writers group PEN American Center announced a drive to collect a million signatures in support of several bills pending in Congress to amend the law."

"The campaign is supported by a who's-who of publishers, booksellers, and library organizations," the article noted, "including the Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstore chains, publishers Random House and Simon & Schuster, the American Association of Law Libraries, and the Authors Guild."

And while it might be expected that the American Civil Liberties Union would join the cause, the article noted that a number of conservative groups also oppose Section 215. Among those calling for an amendment of Section 215 are the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Gun Owners of America, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, and Paul M. Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation.

According to the article, "in a survey last fall of 465 public and 120 private libraries in Illinois by the Library Research Center, seven public libraries reported that they had received requests for information about patrons or circulation records from the FBI, and 17 said other requests came from police or other agencies. Eight said the reason given for the requests was a national security investigation…. Though the survey did not ask whether a Section 215 order had been presented, 14 libraries declined to answer some survey questions for fear of violating the law. When asked whether they agree with the American Library Association's 2003 statement that Section 215 is 'a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users,' 90 percent of public libraries and 95 percent of private libraries said yes."

The Globe spoke to Philip B. Heymann, professor at Harvard Law School and former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, who was quoted in the article as saying that regarding access to records, there are always two concerns: "One is that government will use the information for the wrong purpose, particularly a political one. The other concern is that even if government is as pure as Mother Teresa, people are going to be inhibited in their activities. They will fear that the dirty book they take out will become a government record."

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