Momentum to Amend 215 of the USA Patriot Act Continues to Gather Steam

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The grassroots effort to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act continues to gain momentum. Last week, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called on President George W. Bush to end his pro-Patriot Act tour, and, at the same time, a group in Westchester County, New York, was calling for repeal of some provisions in the Patriot Act, as reported by The Journal News. Meanwhile, Oxford, Mississippi's Square Books garnered local media attention for its participation in the Campaign for Reader Privacy,, a nationwide petition drive to raise awareness about the threat to the privacy of bookstore and library records posed by the USA Patriot Act, which is sponsored by ABA, the American Library Association, and PEN American Center.

Rep. Sanders is a leading advocate for reforming the Patriot Act and sponsor of legislation that would restore pre-Patriot Act protections to libraries, books, and their patrons, called the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157). On April 20, while the President was in New York asking that the Patriot Act's sunset provisions be removed, he urged President Bush to rework the portions of the Patriot Act that most threaten Americans' civil liberties.

"[T]he reality that President Bush doesn't talk about is that the Patriot Act unnecessarily invades the privacy of innocent Americans," Sanders said in a statement. "The federal government does not need the power to look over the collective shoulders of the American People to see what they are reading. And this is just one of the Patriot Act provisions that is ripe for abuse. There is no doubt that we must be diligent to protect our citizens from another terrorist attack. But, the threat of terrorism should not be used as an excuse for the government to intrude on our basic constitutional rights."

Late last week, in Westchester County, New York, the Journal News reported that the Westchester Bill of Rights Defense Campaign (WBRDC) organized a meeting of local residents to discuss how to repeal provisions of the Patriot Act. The meeting was part of the WBRDC's efforts to persuade the Westchester County Board of Legislators to join the 293 communities -- as well as Alaska, Vermont, Hawaii, and Maine -- that have adopted resolutions opposing it, the JN article noted. Already, the Westchester towns of Greenburgh and Mount Vernon have approved resolutions calling for repeal of some provisions of the Act, JN reported.

Westchester is home to ABA, and the association has provided strong support for WBRDC's efforts. ABA COO Oren Teicher has met with the group several times and has agreed to testify before the Westchester County Board of Legislators if a public hearing is scheduled.

In Oxford, Mississippi, independent bookstore Square Books garnered media attention in the Daily Mississippian last week because of its strong opposition to Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The store has participated in the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP) since it began, asking customers to sign a petition calling for Section 215 to be amended to protect the privacy of bookstore and library records, as reported by the Daily Mississippian.

In early April, ABA announced that phase one of CRP would culminate with a CRP presentation during BookExpo America, which will be held from June 2 - 6 at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago. ABA has asked booksellers to continue collecting signatures (and periodically to mail them to ABA) through the weekend of May 15, and on May 17 to mail all remaining petitions to ABA. Additionally, booksellers not yet participating in this critical petition drive are urged to do so today.

For answers to frequently asked questions about the bookstore drive to collect customer signatures, click here.

Booksellers can order additional petition pads by calling ABA's Information Department at (800) 637-0037, ext. 1292 or 1293, or for a downloadable PDF of the petition, click here.