Dear Friend of Women Artists,
As you know, the USA PATRIOT Act gave the federal government unfettered access to a whole host of personal information, including library and bookstore records. Librarians and bookstore owners are not even allowed to alert customers to the fact that they have been approached for information. This power infringes on one of our most basic rights, the right to be an informed citizenry, the right to read.
Happily, booksellers, librarians and members of Congress have launched a campaign to restore protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records. The introduction of H.R. 1157, the Freedom to Read Protection Act of 2003, was announced at a Washington press conference on March 6 by Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Further discussion of the issues and list of Congressmembers who have now signed on as co-sponsors of the bill can be found at the web site of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee: http://www.bordc.org/freedomtoread.htm - current. The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression web sit is also helpful: http://www.abffe.com/.
Please contact your member of Congress and urge him or her to cosponsor the bill. If (s)he is already a co-sponsor, please thank her/him and urge them to oppose any further roll-backs of our constitutional rights (e.g. PATRIOT II.) To find contact information for your Congressional Representative, or to find out who your representative is, go to: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/You can use language from the Talking Points below in composing your letter; or use your own words!
Talking Points from ABFFE
Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157)
Privacy is an essential element of First Amendment freedom.
Our society places the highest value on the ability to speak freely on any subject. But freedom of speech depends on the freedom to explore ideas privately. Customers in a bookstore and patrons of a library must feel free to request books about health, religion, politics, the law or any other subject without fear that their choices may be made public. If they are uncertain that their privacy will be respected, they lose the freedom to buy and borrow the books they need to form and express opinions. For this reason, several courts have ruled that bookstore records enjoy First Amendment protection. In 1998, a federal court blocked Kenneth Starr's efforts to obtain Monica Lewinsky's book purchase records. In April 2002, the justice of the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously suppressed a search warrant that had been issued to the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver.
The Patriot Act threatens the privacy of bookstore and library records.
Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act eliminates several important safeguards that prevent law enforcement officials in foreign intelligence investigations from engaging in fishing expeditions in bookstore and library records. FBI agents can search the bookstore or library records of anyone who they believe may have information relevant to their investigations, including people who are not suspected of committing a crime. The request for a court order authorizing the search is heard by a judge in a secret proceeding, which prevents a bookseller or librarian from objecting on First Amendment grounds. The court order contains a gag provision that forbids a bookseller or librarian to alert anyone to the fact that a search has occurred. As a result, it is impossible to protest the search even after the fact.
H.R. 1157 restores the privacy protections that were eliminated by the Patriot Act
The Freedom to Read Protection Act restores the protections for the privacy of bookstore and library records that existed before the passage of the Patriot Act. Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on March 6 by Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), H.R. 1157 is co-sponsored by 58 House members, including Democrats and Republicans representing every political perspective-liberal, conservative and moderate.
Many thanks and best wishes,
The Fund for Women Artists
P.O. Box 60637
Florence, MA 01062