Ingram and Baker & Taylor Join Groups Supporting Freedom to Read Protection Act

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Support for the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) within the book, library, and publishing industry continues to grow.

Since mid-May, when 35 industry organizations, including the American Booksellers for Free Expression, American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Borders Group Inc., issued a strong statement in support of the Freedom to Read Protection Act, six organizations have added their names to the statement, including Ingram Book Group and Baker & Taylor. The Freedom to Read Protection Act, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 6 by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), would remove a threat created by the USA Patriot Act to the privacy of bookstore and library records.

"The support of large companies like Ingram and Baker & Taylor is extremely important because Republican legislators listen closely to the concerns of the business community," said Chris Finan, president of ABFFE. "We hope that companies throughout the book industry, including the major publishers, will add their names to the statement."

In addition to Ingram and Baker & Taylor, the other organizations that recently added their names to the statement are Independent Booksellers Consortium, National Association of Independent Publishers Representatives, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Currently, under the Patriot Act, the FBI has vastly expanded authority to search business records, including the records of bookstores and libraries. The FBI may request the records secretly, and it is not required to prove that there is "probable cause" to believe that the person whose records are being sought has committed a crime. In addition, the bookseller or librarian who receives an order is prohibited from revealing it to anyone except those whose help is needed to produce the records.

In their statement, the groups note: "Our society places the highest value on the ability to speak freely on any subject. But freedom of speech depends on the freedom to explore ideas privately. Bookstore customers and library patrons must feel free to seek out books on health, religion, politics, the law, or any subject they choose, without fear that the government is looking over their shoulder…. FBI agents do not need to prove they have 'probable cause' before searching bookstore or library records: they can get access to the records of anyone whom they believe to have information that may be relevant to a terrorism investigation, including people who are not suspected of committing a crime or suspected of having any knowledge of a crime…."

The statement continues, "We applaud Congressman Sanders and the Democratic and Republican sponsors and co-sponsors of HR 1157. They have shown great courage by defending civil liberties during a time of crisis." (To read the statement in full and for a full list of the statement's signatories, click here.)

If H.R. 1157 is enacted, law enforcement officials will still be able to subpoena bookstore and library records crucial to an investigation, but the courts will exercise their normal scrutiny in reviewing these requests. H.R. 1157 is co-sponsored by 115 members of the House, including 13 Republicans. (For the list of co-sponsors, click here.)

In addition to the industry statement, John R. Ingram, chair of the board for Ingram, wrote a letter to the Tennessee Congressional delegation, in which he stressed, "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." -- David Grogan