Official Press Release
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has joined an amicus brief in
support of an ACLU challenge of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. ABFFE
Director Chris Finan sent the following press release explaining the
brief and its aims:
Free speech groups representing booksellers, librarians, publishers,
writers and others today filed a brief that strongly supports a legal
challenge to the constitutionality of the provision of the USA
Patriot Act that gives the FBI virtually unlimited access to
personal, organization and business records, including bookstore and
library records. The U.S. Justice Department has filed a motion to
dismiss the case. “The Patriot Act authorizes the FBI to engage in
fishing expeditions in bookstore and library records and then bars
booksellers and librarians from protesting even after the fact. Such
an unprecedented extension of prosecutorial power demands immediate
court review,” Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers
Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), said today.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the federal lawsuit in
Detroit in July on behalf of six non-profit organizations that
provide a wide range of religious, medical, social, and educational
services to various communities around the country. The plaintiffs
allege that they are likely targets of investigation under Section
215 of the Patriot Act, which gives the FBI access to the records of
almost any person, organization or business in the course of an
investigation of terrorism or espionage. In a brief filed today
opposing the government’s motion to dismiss, one plaintiff, the
Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, says that attendance at
prayer services and association events as well as donations have
dropped dramatically as a result of fear that the government might
try to obtain its records.
The book and library community has also expressed alarm about Section
215 because FBI agents do not need to prove they have “probable
cause” before searching bookstore or library records: they can get
access to the records of anyone whom they believe to have information
that may be relevant to a terrorism investigation, including people
who are not suspected of committing a crime or of having any
knowledge of a crime. The request for an order authorizing the search
is heard by a secret court in a closed proceeding, making it
impossible for a bookseller or librarian to have the opportunity to
object on First Amendment grounds prior to the execution of the
order. Because the order contains a gag provision forbidding a
bookseller or librarian from alerting anyone to the fact that a
search has occurred, it would be difficult to protest the search even
after the fact.
Recently, Attorney General John Ashcroft attempted to ease concerns
about Section 215 by announcing that the FBI has not used it.
However, critics continue to worry about the potential for abuse in
the future. The amicus brief quotes a spokesman for the Justice
Department upholding the necessity for the provision. Once the
government decides someone is a terrorist, the spokesman
explained, “We would want to know what they’re reading.”
In addition to ABFFE, the groups signing the amicus brief are the
Association of American Publishers, the Association of American
University Presses, the Center for First Amendment Rights, the Comic
Book Legal Defense Fund, the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
Feminists for Free Expression, the First Amendment Project, the
Freedom to Read Foundation and PEN American Center.
The amicus brief, which was written by Dan Mach and Theresa Chmara of
Jenner & Block, is available online at http://www.abffe.com.
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