Bipartisan Call for Modest Reforms Rejected by Congressional Negotiators, "Freedom to Read" Amendment Would Have Fixed Some Patriot Act Problems

November 4, 2005 12:00 am

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Bipartisan Call for Modest Reforms Rejected by Congressional Negotiators, “Freedom to Read” Amendment Would Have Fixed Some Patriot Act Problems


WASHINGTON – Negotiators reconciling differences between the House and Senate bills to fund the Justice Department today dropped the “Freedom to Read” amendment, which was passed by a bipartisan majority in the House. The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its disappointment that conferees dropped the provision authored by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which would have denied funding for the FBI to access library and bookstore records under section 215 of the Patriot Act. The Sanders amendment had been adopted on a vote of 238-187 this summer.

The Patriot Act expanded the power of the federal government to obtain any record or tangible thing in an intelligence investigation and eliminated the requirement that federal agents demonstrate that there are facts connecting the records sought to a suspected foreign terrorist. The Bush Administration opposed the bipartisan amendment to exempt library and book records from these secret search powers and threatened to veto the funding bill if it were included.

The following can be attributed to Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“The Freedom to Read amendment was a strong bipartisan first step in bringing the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution. Fair-minded lawmakers, across the political spectrum, stood together demanding that the government balance security concerns and the need to protect our most fundamental freedoms. Unfortunately, the White House has used its political power to toss out these modest reforms.

“By its own admission, the Department of Justice has not used section 215 to obtain library records, although it is clear that they are using other Patriot Act powers to do so, and yet the administration continues to insist that it needs this extraordinary power. These records are available in investigations to prevent crimes, including terrorism, when there is sufficient evidence of criminal activity. The Patriot Act must be fixed to ensure that these secret powers are not used to target the personal records of ordinary Americans. Without a requirement that there be facts connecting the records to suspected terrorist there is no way to enforce this needed protection for our civil liberties.

“Congressman Sanders and the 237 members of Congress who voted to protect our freedom to read should be commended. The White House, however, should be ashamed of the scare tactics and bullying it used to defeat this modest amendment.”

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the Patriot Act, go to:

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