House Coalition Asks House Judiciary Committee for a Hearing on H.R. 1157

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Ingram Distribution Joins Group of Over 30 Book-Related Organizations Supporting H.R. 1157

On June 4, a "tripartisan" group of four members of Congress, led by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), announced that they had sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) requesting that he hold hearings on the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157). The bill, which was introduced by Sanders in March, would remove a threat created by the USA Patriot Act to the privacy of bookstore and library records. Representatives John Conyers (D-MI), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Ron Paul (R-TX) also signed the letter.

"Librarians and booksellers across the country fear that the Patriot Act is causing a chilling effect on their patrons," Rep. Sanders said in a prepared statement. "It is imperative if we are really going to effectively oversee the federal government's use of its new Patriot Act powers to hear from the librarians and booksellers who are the front lines. I believe that there is widespread public interest in such hearings, and that these alternative sources might provide the Committee a different picture than the official line from the Department of Justice."

ABFFE President Chris Finan told BTW that "the fight for the Freedom to Read Protection Act is proceeding far more quickly than we could have hoped. A hearing is the next logical step. As they showed by their enthusiastic welcome of Bernie Sanders at BookExpo, booksellers are looking forward to the opportunity to testify about how the Patriot Act threatens customer privacy and First Amendment rights."

Sanders' legislation is co-sponsored by 107 bipartisan members of Congress (for a full list, click here) and is the first piece of legislation introduced in the House to amend the USA Patriot Act.

In the letter, dated June 2, the members of Congress wrote, "We are particularly concerned about the impact of Section 215 on patrons of America's libraries and booksellers. To that end, we have sponsored H.R. 1157…. While we agree that it is extremely important and useful for the Department of Justice to testify before Congress on matters relating to the USA Patriot Act, we also believe that other interested parties should be able to express their views about the impact of Section 215. For instance, while Justice claims only 50 visits to libraries in the last year, a survey by the University of Illinois revealed that over 175 libraries had been approached by federal officials since the September 11 attacks. This suggests that perhaps the Department of Justice is presenting information in a manner designed to obfuscate the true extent of their activities under the USA Patriot Act."

(To read the letter in its entirety, click here.)

In a related story, Ingram Distribution has joined a group of over 30 organizations in the book, library, and publishing industry that have expressed their support for H.R. 1157. In a letter to the Tennessee Congressional delegation, John R. Ingram, chair of the board, wrote: "The booksellers and librarians of our country have called attention to a troublesome aspect of recent anti-terrorism legislation, and I believe they make a very good point. While the 'USA Patriot Act' is overall most essential and helpful to the protection of our country and our people, I was concerned to learn that in addition to its many strong benefits to law enforcement, it also gives the FBI the power to compel bookstores and libraries to disclose what Americans are reading -- without showing probable cause that the search is related to a criminal activity or a foreign power. This aspect of the new law clearly needs fixing."

Among the organizations that have expressed their support for the proposed law are the American Library Association; American Booksellers Association; Barnes & Noble Booksellers; Borders Group, Inc.; and the Association of American Publishers.