Washington, DC, June 18, 2010: The Campaign for Reader Privacy, which has been fighting to restore privacy safeguards for library and bookstore records that were stripped away by the Patriot Act, warmly welcomed an announcement by the Inspector General (IG) of the Justice Department that he plans to begin a new investigation of how the government is using Patriot Act domestic surveillance powers. Prior IG reports have documented widespread abuse by the FBI of National Security Letters (NSLs) and questionable use of Section 215 orders. In the new investigation, the IG will look into the use of NSLs and Section 215 orders, the two Patriot Act provisions of greatest concern to reader privacy advocates.
The Campaign for Reader Privacy had been pressing for significant changes in Section 215, one of the Patriot Act provisions due to expire on December 31, 2009, and had succeeded in securing the approval of a bill by the House Judiciary Committee that would prohibit the use of Section 215 to search the records of a library patron or bookstore customer unless there are "specific and articulable facts" to show that the person is "a suspected agent of a foreign power" or someone who is in contact or known to the suspected agent. A bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee provided enhanced protections for library patrons. Unfortunately, time ran out before Congress was able to complete the reauthorization process and a temporary one-year extension (until February 2011) of the existing Patriot Act was approved.
Inspector General Glenn Fine announced his investigation this week in a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In March, Leahy asked Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a review of the way the Department is using Section 215 and the NSL provisions even though the legislation requiring it did not become law.
"The Inspector General's announcement that he intends to assess the FBI's progress in responding to recommendations in prior reports and to take a close look at the use of Section 215 orders and NSLs between 2007 and 2009 is very good news, indeed," said Tom Allen, President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers. "His findings will be extremely valuable in informing the debate over Patriot Act reauthorization when it resumes later this year."
The Campaign for Reader Privacy was organized in 2004 by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center. Its goal is to ensure that Americans can purchase and borrow books without fear that the government is reading over their shoulder.