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Literary Groups Decry Patriot Act As Invasion Of 0aPrivacy
By David Mehegan
Boston Globe Staff
Friday 16 May 2003
A national coalition of publishers, authors, librarians, and 0abooksellers yesterday called on Congress to modify the part of the antiterrorist 0aUSA Patriot Act that allows the government to secretly inspect Americans' 0abook-buying and -borrowing habits.
The statement is signed by 32 organizations, including the 0aAmerican Booksellers Association, the Authors Guild, the Association of American 0aPublishers, the American Library Association, PEN American Center, and the giant 0abooksellers Borders and Barnes & Noble. It endorses a bill filed in March by 0aRepresentative Bernard Sanders, Independent of Vermont, that would exempt 0abookstore sales records and library borrowing records from some provisions of 0athe act.
In a separate statement supporting the Sanders bill, former US 0arepresentative Patricia Schroeder, president of the library association, said, ''Section 215 seriously undermines the First Amendment-protected activities of 0aauthors and publishers, booksellers and librarians, and indeed anyone who 0areads.''
''Bookstores are almost universally in favor of this,'' said 0aWayne A. Drugan Jr., executive director of the New England Booksellers 0aAssociation, which signed the statement. ''Books contain information to which 0aeverybody should have free access, and that access should not be monitored or 0asupervised by the government.''
Under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, passed in October 2001, 0aa secret court can authorize the FBI to inspect or seize bookstore or library 0arecords without showing probable cause. Further, the law provides that the 0abookstore or library is forbidden to disclose that the inspection happened.
The Sanders bill, dubbed the Freedom to Read Act, would still 0aallow inspection but would require closer court supervision.
Resistance to the Patriot Act has been building quietly since it 0abecame law. More than 90 cities and towns across the country have passed 0aresolutions against it.
''Libraries are a cornerstone of intellectual freedom, the right 0ato think and explore and read whatever you want to,'' said Krista McLeod, 0adirector of the Nevins Memorial Library in Metheun and president of the 0aMassachusetts Library Association, which supports the change. ''The privacy 0aassociated with that freedom is key. . . .
People who come in to use the library have lost a lot of the 0aprivacy that they expect.'' Barbara Comstock, spokeswoman for the US Justice 0aDepartment, yesterday said the opposition to the Patriot Act is misplaced. ''All 0aSection 215 says is that when someone who is not an American citizen or is 0aidentified as a terrorist comes to a library to use a computer, we can go into 0athe library and see what he is doing on that computer,'' Comstock said. ''The 0ahysteria about this is due to a lack of understanding that a court order is 0arequired. There is no interest in a general sense in knowing what people are 0areading.''