Rep. Bernie Sanders was a staunch critic of the PATRIOT Act, which was enacted weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The PATRIOT Act was controversial for undermining fundamental freedoms for Americans. Supporters said it helped in anti-terror efforts. Critics say that it threatened civil liberties. Rep. Sanders sponsored and supported several amendments to the PATRIOT Act, one of the most highly publicized and controversial being the right to privacy between citizens, booksellers, and libraries.
“Sanders was among the lawmakers who led an effort in Congress to block a part of the law that lets authorities obtain special court orders requiring book dealers, libraries, and others to give up records such as purchases; and websites visited on library computers.”
“The amendment, tagged on to a $39.8 billion measure financing the Justice, Commerce, and State departments, came close to being approved by the House until Republican leaders held the vote open to persuade fellow GOP lawmakers who initially supported the provision to change their vote. The measure ultimately failed by a vote of 210-210.
Former Vermont ACLU executive director Ben Scotch said, “Books are always there when other sources of information falter. Libraries and bookstores will remain as much the seats of democracy as the House and Senate. Bernie had the wisdom to begin challenging some of the excesses of (The Patriot Act) by protecting books.”
In June 2005, the House approved legislation by Rep. Sanders to repeal a portion of the controversial anti-terrorism law. He won a 238-187 vote to throw out the PATRIOT Act section, making it easier for federal agents to find out what books people have purchased from bookstores or borrowed from libraries. Thirty-eight Republicans and 199 Democrats joined him in approving the bill.
“All of us – everyone in Congress and all Americans – are concerned about terrorism and want to do everything we can to protect the American people,” Sanders said. “But we can and must do it in a way that does not undermine the basic freedoms that make this country great.”