April 8, 2009

Will Obama, Congress really extend Bush-Cheney Patriot Act spying on bookstores and libraries?


George W. Bush signs the USA Patriot Act into law

George W. Bush signs the USA Patriot Act into law

A “detailed memo” has been sent to Congress explaining “why the USA Patriot Act needs to be reformed before its likely extension before the end of the year,” according to a Publishers Weekly report. The memo was sent by the Campaign for Reader Privacy, a group composed of various book industry trade groups including the American Booksellers Association, the Association of American Publishers, the American Library Association, and PEN, which “has fought for five years to restore reader privacy that it believes was stripped away by the Patriot Act and in particular Section 215 which authorizes the issuance of secret search orders which permits the government to search the records of any person its believes could be relevant to a terrorist investigation.”

In particular, the CRP believes the Act “eliminated safeguards protecting the confidentiality of the records of bookstore customers and library patrons, and has had a chilling effect on First Amendment right.”

Think they’r exagerating? Think again: “the Department of Justice has issued more than 200 secret search orders under Section 215 and more than 190,000 National Security Letters (NSLs),” according to the memo, although “Since recipients of NSLs are barred from revealing their existence, it is impossible to know how many have been served on bookstores and libraries ….

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.