House Passes Patriot Act Revision

If you have not heard about this yet, it seems like good news.

Reprinted from the National Coalition for History Washington Update:

On 15 June 2005, in a stunning 238 to 187 victory for the library community, the House approved an amendment to the Patriot Act that bars the Department of Justice from using any appropriated federal funds to search library and bookstore records under provisions of the Patriot Act.

The amendment, remarkably similar to the “Freedom to Read Protection Act” that was attached to the House Science-State-Justice Subcommittee appropriations bill, was advanced by Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and endorsed by a curious coalition of some 38 House conservatives worried about government intrusion and about 200 Democrats concerned about personal privacy. One House aide referred to the victorious coalition as “the crazies on the left and the crazies on the right, meeting in the middle.”

Far from being “crazies,” the library community has long argued that certain provisions in Section 215 of the Patriot Act are draconian. When the Patriot Act was enacted in 2001 it granted broad new powers to the FBI to access what the law merely defined as “tangible things” from libraries, bookstores, and other records. All that was needed was a warrant issued by
the government’s secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or “FISA” court. The effect of the provision was to make permissible what Patriot Act critics characterized as “fishing expeditions” by FBI agents who could investigate, among other things, what library patrons were reading.

The House passed measure mandates that security officials would need to obtain a standard court-ordered search warrant issued by a judge or a subpoena from a grand jury in order to seize records relating to a suspect’s reading habits. In other words, the Sanders amendment restores legal standards and warrant procedures for investigations of library and
bookstore records that were in place prior to enactment of the Patriot Act.

Administration officials claim that national security officials have never invoked the provision against a library or bookstore; nevertheless, one administration official did not hesitate to declare that “bookstores and libraries should not be carved out as safe havens for terrorists and spies who have, in fact, used public libraries to do research and communicate with their co-conspirators.” The House Republican leadership hopes to have the provision removed when a conference committee meets to work out differences between the House and Senate passed versions of the bill.

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