California Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the following bill to the U.S. Senate on May 23:
S.1158: A bill to exempt bookstores and libraries from orders requiring the production of tangible things for foreign intelligence investigations, and to exempt libraries from counterintelligence access to certain records, ensuring that libraries and bookstores are subjected to the regular system of court-ordered warrants.
Vermont Representative Bernard Sanders introduced a similar bill to the House on May 3.
The issue here involves the USA Patriot Act, which enables law enforcement agencies to gain access to patron and customer records at libraries and bookstores. In section 215, the Act gives agencies the right to access such information based only on warrants obtained from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts. These courts are secret, meaning their proceedings are not a matter of the public record. Also, the Patriot Act does not require law enforcement to show probable cause. Finally, Patriot makes it illegal for libraries or bookstores to inform patrons that their records have been seized.
The bills introduced in the House and Senate would amend U.S. code to require agents to obtain subpoenas or search warrants in open courts before demanding access to patron records.