Congressional Record: March 12, 2003 (Extensions)
Page E441-E442



                          HON. BERNARD SANDERS

                               of vermont

                    in the house of representatives

                       Wednesday, March 12, 2003

  Mr. SANDERS. Mr. Speaker, I want to share with you some remarks that 
I made on March 3 when I introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act. 
This legislation now has 28 co-sponsors and has been endorsed by the 
American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association and 
newspapers throughout the country. Yes, we must do all that we can to 
U-1 protect the American people from terrorism, but we can do it in a 
way that protects the basic constitutional rights of our citizens.

 Statement of Representative Bernie Sanders on the Introduction of the 
                     Freedom To Read Protection Act

       Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us here today to 
     announce the introduction of the Freedom to Read Protection 
     Act--legislation which will protect libraries, bookstores and 
     their patrons from unjustified government surveillance into 
     what books Americans are reading and buying, and what 
     websites they may be visiting when using a library computer.
       Let me begin by thanking the Members of Congress who have 
     joined me here today. I also want to thank Chris Finan of the 
     American Booksellers Association and Emily Sheketoff--
     Executive Director of the American Library Association's 
     Washington Office--for joining us. I am also delighted that 
     Trina Magi--a librarian from the University of Vermont--and 
     Linda Ramsdell, a bookstore owner from Hardwick, Vermont, who 
     is the President of the New England Booksellers Association, 
     are here with us today.
       Let me also congratulate the 62 cities and towns all across 
     this country who have passed resolutions on this issue--and 
     that number is growing rapidly. That effort is being 
     coordinated by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee which 
     understands that civil liberties and constitutional rights 
     are not only a national issue, but a local issue. I also want 
     to thank the editorial boards of the many newspapers all over 
     this country who have spoken out on this freedom to read 
     issue--including the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free 
     Press, the Honolulu Observer, the Providence Journal-
     Bulletin, the Caledonia Record, and the Valley News.
       The tri-partisan legislation we are introducing today--
     called the Freedom to Read Protection Act--would protect the 
     privacy and First Amendment rights of American citizens 
     against unnecessary government intrusion. Specifically, this 
     legislation will exempt libraries and bookstores from Section 
     215 of the so-called ``Patriot Act.'' The Freedom to Read 
     Protection Act is being introduced by 24 members of Congress 
     including Republican Ron Paul of Texas, and Congressman John 
     Conyers, the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee. 
     They are both unable to join us today but I do want to 
     recognize their support and leadership in protecting civil 
     liberties. I am confident that in the days and weeks to come 
     we will add many more cosponsors.
       One of the cornerstones of our democracy is our right of 
     Americans to criticize their government, and to read printed 
     materials without fear of government monitoring and 
       Yes, all of us concerned about terrorism and all of us are 
     determined to do all that we can to protect the American 
     people from another terrorist attack. But, the threat of 
     terrorism must not be used as an excuse by the government to 
     intrude on our basic constitutional rights. We can fight 
     terrorism, but we can do it at the same time as we protect 
     the civil liberties that have made our country great.
       Unfortunately, the Patriot Act has changed all that. 
     Section 215 of the Patriot Act greatly expanded the FBI's 
     ability to get records from all businesses, including 
     libraries and booksellers, without meeting the traditional 
     standard needed to get a search warrant in the United States.
       This is a very dangerous situation. Today, all the FBI has 
     to claim is that the information they want is somehow 
     relevant to an investigation to protect against international 
     terrorism. This is an extremely low threshold for government 
     intrusion and average Americans should be extremely 
       The reason they should care is that Section 215 does not 
     just apply to terrorists or even foreigners or agents of 
     foreign powers. Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the 
     person whose records are being searched by the FBI can be 
     anyone. The FBI doesn't even have to say that it believes the 
     person is involved in criminal activity or that the person is 
     connected to a foreign power.
       Even more frightening, the FBI can investigate American 
     citizens based in part on an American's exercise of his or 
     her First Amendment Rights, such as writing a letter to the 
     editor of a newspaper or reading books the government may not 
     approve of.
       And the traditional legal protections, that have been 
     embodied in our Constitution for hundreds of years, no longer 
     apply. The government can gain access to our reading records 
     through the secret FISA court which was created by the 
     Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978 and which is 
     off limits to the public. There's no way to know how many 
     times the FBI has spied on library or bookseller records or 
     whose records they have reviewed.
       In fact, Section 215 prevents librarians and booksellers 
     from telling their customers that their privacy has been 
     violated. Who would have thought that in 21st Century 
     America, the government could gain access to library 
     circulation records and bookseller customer records with no 
     evidence that the person whose records they are getting is 
     involved in any wrongdoing, that all of this would be handled 
     through a secret government court, and that the librarians 
     and booksellers would be compelled by the law not to let 
     anyone know that the government had swooped in to get their 
       Now some may ask how the federal government is using this 
     new power. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are 
     also interested in that question and have pressured the 
     Justice Department to show how

[[Page E442]]

     they are using these new powers. The information they have 
     received after months of badgering the Department is 
     inadequate. The Justice Department claimed most of the 
     information regarding libraries and bookstores was 
     ``confidential,'' and could not be provided. This past 
     October, several national organizations, including the 
     American Booksellers Association, filed a Freedom of 
     Information Act request to get statistical information, such 
     as how many times the government has used its expanded 
     surveillance authority under the Patriot Act. In January, a 
     very limited amount of information was released to these 
     groups and they are continuing to push for a more complete 
       Importantly, an anonymous survey done by the University of 
     Illinois found that over 175 libraries across the country 
     have been visited by federal authorities since the September 
     11th attacks. How is the Congress and the public supposed to 
     make sure that these new powers are not being abused when we 
     do not even know how often they are being invoked and the 
     types of institutions that are being investigated?
       For many people who can not afford to buy books or have the 
     Internet at home the library is critical to their ability to 
     access to information. Many librarians and booksellers now 
     fear that patrons have begun to self-censor their library use 
     and book purchases due to fears of government surveillance. 
     We need to remove libraries and booksellers from Section 215 
     so that Americans know their freedom to access information 
     won't be improperly scrutinized by federal agents.
       Let us be clear. The FBI would still be able to gain access 
     to library or bookseller records as part of an investigation 
     into illegal activity. All our bill does is restore the 
     traditional protections that Americans expect and deserve. If 
     the FBI has probable cause to believe that information in a 
     library or bookseller's records or computers is connected to 
     an ongoing criminal investigation or terrorism investigation, 
     they can go to court and get a search warrant.
       In addition, the bill requires that the Justice Department 
     provide more detailed information about its activities under 
     Section 215 so we can determine how the FBI is using its new 
     powers under Section 215.
       Let me conclude by saying that all of us support protecting 
     Americans from terrorism. But we do not win against 
     terrorists by abandoning our most basic civil liberties. We 
     cannot be an example of freedom for the world when our own 
     government is spying on what Americans are reading.