Last week, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the reauthorization of a bill that would restore protections for reader privacy that were formerly eliminated by 2001's Patriot Act.
Leahy's bill was approved in 2009 by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it never received a vote by the full Senate. According to a press release, the bill "provides important safeguards for library records, limiting FBI searches to the records of people who are 'agents of a foreign power,' including suspected terrorists, and people known to them...The Patriot Act currently authorizes the FBI to search any records that are 'relevant' to a terrorist investigation, including the records of people who are not suspected of criminal conduct."
However, though the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act of 2011 protects readers at libraries, it fails to do the same for those in bookstores.
In the press release, Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said that she believes Congress should take note that the privacy of reader records at bookstores is equally important to that at libraries:
We appreciate the heightened protection afforded library records for those Americans who borrow books. The next logical step would be to safeguard the First Amendment rights of Americans who purchase books in a bookstore. In both instances, reader privacy must be maintained.
The Campaign for Reader Privacy, representing librarians, booksellers, authors, and publishers, supports the act, but believes that reader privacy should continue to be strengthened. They noted that in a letter to Leahy, Attorney General Eric Holder had stressed the importance of strengthening reader privacy as well. He wrote:
Taken together, I believe these measures will advance the goals of....enhancing the privacy and civil liberties our citizens enjoy without compromising our ability to keep our nation safe and secure.
The Campaign for Reader Privacy was created in 2004 by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center. Its primary aim is to ensure that citizens can buy and borrow books without having to worry about being watched by the government.