Congressman Set to Introduce Legislation to Address Constitutional Concerns About the USA Patriot Act

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Vermont Congressman Bernard Sanders will be holding a press conference on Friday, December 20, at 11:00 a.m., at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont, to announce his plans to introduce legislation that eliminates what he believes are unconstitutional provisions in the USA Patriot Act. Joining Sanders at the press conference will be Karen Lane, president of the Vermont Library Association (VLA); past VLA president Trina Magi; and Linda Ramsdell, owner of the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont, and president of the New England Booksellers Association (NEBA).

Sanders' announcement comes in response to a letter from members of VLA, sent to the congressman in November, which states that the Patriot Act contains provisions that "undermine" Americans' constitutionally protected right to read and to access information without government interference.

The letter notes that "the [Patriot] Act -- passed with virtually no congressional debate -- gives law enforcement officials broad authority to demand that libraries or booksellers turn over books, records, papers, and documents -- in fact 'any tangible things'.... These provisions of the USA Patriot Act do not protect us from terrorism. Rather, they cast a wide net of suspicion and surveillance over the community of readers, researchers, and information-seekers." (To read the letter in full, click here.)

A group of Vermont booksellers, led by NEBA's Ramsdell and working with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, have drafted a modified letter that they will present to Sanders at the press conference. (For a previous article on VLA's letter to Sanders, click here.) Ramsdell is currently gathering Vermont bookseller signatures for the letter.

At Friday's press conference, Sanders plans to "educate people on what the Patriot Act allows," said Joel Barkin, a spokesperson for Sanders. Sanders will also announce that, in the next congressional session, "he is introducing legislation to eliminate provisions [in the Act] that hinder a person's ability to read without government interference," said Barkin. Congressman Sanders voted against the Patriot Act when it was first introduced in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Sanders announcement is welcome news for Vermont booksellers, said Ramsdell. "I'm really excited that Congressman Sanders is going to introduce legislation, and I have a lot of faith in his integrity," she said. "It makes sense that he'd be the person to take this and run with it."

Barkin told BTW that Sanders plans to introduce the legislation in late January. --David Grogan