Call Your Senators Today to Support the USA FREEDOM Act

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Time to call your senators!

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048), a bill that creates important safeguards for the privacy of personal information of Americans, including their bookstore and library records. The vote was 338–88. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is promising to defeat it.

The American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) and other members of the Campaign for Reader Privacy have endorsed the FREEDOM Act. Booksellers, librarians, publishers, and writers launched the campaign in 2004 because of their concern that readers might not feel free to choose the books they want knowing the government has the power to secretly search their records.

A vote in the Senate is expected in the next week. Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which authorizes the government to secretly search any records that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation, is set to expire on June 1. Since almost all members of Congress want to reauthorize Section 215, they must pass an extension before their Memorial Day recess.

The FREEDOM Act is an important curb on the government’s power under Section 215. Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency is using a single Section 215 order to collect information about the telephone calls of millions of innocent Americans. The FREEDOM Act would end the “bulk collection” of telephone and all other personal records.

The FREEDOM Act bans bulk collection by requiring the government to provide information identifying a specific person, account, address, or other “specific selection term” (SST) when it applies for authority to search under Section 215. The bill makes clear that the purpose of the SST is “to limit, to the greatest extent reasonably practicable, the scope of tangible things sought.”

The FREEDOM Act also includes provisions that would make it easier to monitor whether the government is abusing its authority. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which secretly reviews requests for Section 215 orders, would be required to declassify its opinions whenever it can and to publish an unclassified summary when it can’t. A panel of experts would be appointed to help the FISC weigh the privacy implications of its decisions. Private companies would be permitted to release more information about the secret orders they receive from the government.

The members of the Senate need to hear that booksellers support the FREEDOM Act. They listen to booksellers. They know that bookstores are influential institutions in their districts.

The easiest way to place a call is by using the new website Fight215, which is co-sponsored by ABFE. The site includes a sample script as well as new technology that connects you with someone in a senator’s office. When you are speaking, be sure to identify yourself as a bookseller.

Call today.