Washington, DCCongressman Sanders today led a tri-partisan coalition in restoring Americans constitutionally guaranteed right to read and access information without governmental intrusion or monitoring. With 199 Democrats, 38 Republicans and one Independent (Sanders) voting in support, the House passed Congressman Sanders legislation to amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act in order to keep the federal government from accessing Americans reading records without a traditional search warrant.
Sanders said, This is a tremendous victory that restores important Constitutional rights to the American people. The passage of this amendment helps reign in an Administration intent on chipping away at the very civil liberties that define us as a nation. We must do all we can to protect Americans from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine the basic constitutional rights that makes us a free country. American citizens from across the political spectrum have made it clear that they do not want the government monitoring their reading habits. This amendment ensures that Big Brother will not be reading over our shoulders.
Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, federal agents have been empowered to get orders from a secret court that allows them to access, among other things, the reading records of Americans in both libraries and bookstores. Because these orders are granted by a secret court, the people whose records are sought had no opportunity to oppose the order. In most cases the person whose records are acquired would never know it because the law itself makes it a criminal offense for the librarian or bookseller to tell anyone about the order.
Sanders amendment prohibits the government from using these secret court orders to gain access to Americans reading records. The amendment passed despite a Bush Administration veto threat issued the day before the vote.
Sanders said, Section 215 not only intrudes on Americans Constitutional rights, but it does so unnecessarily. Government agents have and will continue to have the ability to access library and bookstore records if they have probable cause to believe they are connected to criminal activityincluding terrorism. This amendment simply restores the checks and balances that protect innocent Americans under the constitution, such as search warrants and grand jury subpoenas.
Sanders amendment was passed as part of the FY06 Science, State, Justice Appropriations bill and will eliminate Justice Department funding for bookstore and library searches under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Amendment cosponsors include Rep. Butch Otter (R-ID), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Rep. Tom Udall (D-CO).