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THE USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act was passed a month after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with little debate and less scrutiny. Few in Congress wanted to be seen as hampering the fight against the bad guys.
Vermont's at-large representative, Bernie Sanders, the only Independent in the House, voted against the Patriot Act, among 66 representatives and one senator who bucked the tide. More importantly, Sanders was the first to propose publicly amending the act. His leadership on this issue has earned him Library Journal's 2003 Politician of the Year award.
In March, Sanders introduced HR 1157, the Freedom To Read Protection Act, which would revise Section 215 of the Patriot Act, returning the government's capacity to search the records of libraries and bookstores to pre-Patriot Act standards. Given that the Patriot Act allows records to be searched without a warrant, a criminal subpoena, or probable cause that a crime has been committed, an amendment would make it far less likely library records would be searched wholesale.
When the bill was introduced, library advocates were glad Sanders had taken on their cause but wondered whether it could garner support. Now, as citizens have grown more skeptical of government overreaching, Sanders has assembled a critical mass in the House, …