Throughout its history, the Association of American Publishers has been a strong and vocal advocate for First Amendment rights including the freedoms to speak and publish. Vigilance will always be needed to prevent encroachment on rights deemed essential since the founding of our republic. We seek the immediate attention of Congress on the two First Amendment issues that follow.
Patriot Act/Reader Privacy
As Americans, we cherish the right to read what we choose without the government’s intrusion — a right that was significantly weakened by the USA Patriot Act. AAP supports passage of the USA Patriot Sunset Extension Act of 2011 (S.193), as approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, to restore our reader privacy protections.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the FBI to search library and bookstore records, including those for individuals not suspected of any criminal conduct, on the mere claim of “relevance” to an ongoing terrorism investigation. An individual’s First Amendment right to privacy regarding the books borrowed from a library or purchased from a bookseller demands a higher standard of scrutiny than mere “relevance.”
Section 215 is scheduled to sunset at the end of May. S.193, as approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, provides the higher standard by requiring that the government demonstrate a person’s connection to terrorism or espionage before a Section 215 search can be carried out in library or bookstore records.
Citizen Participation Act
Publishers are deeply concerned about civil litigation allegedly based on libel and other claims but primarily used as a predatory weapon to stifle open debate and dialogue on public issues. SLAPP lawsuits — Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation--are spurious suits brought with no expectation of winning but, instead, to intimidate or harass authors, publishers and journalists by threatening them with the prospect of crippling legal defense costs.
Some states already have anti-SLAPP statutes but protection is inconsistent. Federal legislation is needed to prevent this abuse of our First Amendment rights. The best protection is a procedure for prompt dismissal of lawsuits aimed at constitutionally protected speech and for the recovery of fees and costs involved in defense against such frivolous suits. A federal Citizen Participation Act, with strong bipartisan support, will be introduced in the Senate in the coming weeks with a companion bill introduced in the House. We urge Members of Congress to co-sponsor and support this important legislation.
The Freedom to Read Committee is charged with protecting and enhancing intellectual freedom and the rights of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment as they pertain to American publishers. The Committee serves as the publishing industry’s watchdog and early warning system on a host of free-speech related issues including school and library censorship, the right to protect confidential sources, Internet censorship, government attempts to regulate speech, third-party liability for “harmful” speech, libel, and reader privacy.
The International Freedom to Publish Committee defends and promotes freedom of written communication worldwide. The goal of the Committee is to promote the principles of free expression set out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.