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The US House of Representatives passed a measure curtailing the federal government's access to library and book shop records by a 238-187 vote on Wednesday.

US Representative Bernie Sanders (Independent, Vermont) sponsored an amendment to the House Justice Subcommittee appropriations bill. The amendment prevents the US Department of Justice (DoJ) from using appropriated funds to obtain library patrons' and book shoppers' records without a search warrant, a practice previously allowed under Section 215 of the so-called "Patriot" Act.

"No question; this is a real shot in the arm for those of us who want to make changes to the USA Patriot Act," Sanders noted. He added that the vote would "rein in an Administration intent on chipping away at the very civil liberties that define us as a nation."

The American Library Association (ALA) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have both applauded the measure's success to date. "People from every political persuasion supported this amendment, and we are grateful that members of the House listened to librarians' concerns," ALA Washington Office Executive Director Emily Sheketoff said.

ACLU lobbyist Gregory Nojeim expressed optimism, saying that "it bodes well that the first vote Congress has taken on the Patriot Act this year has been in favor of liberty and freedom," according to the Associated Press.

The provision allowing library and book shop fishing expeditions is among fifteen that were scheduled to sunset at the end of this year, when the "Patriot" Act - essentially a DoJ wishlist - was originally rammed through Congress in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities, impelled by the Bush Administration's relentless emotional blackmail.

The Administration has repeatedly demanded that all of the sunset clauses be made permanent, and the President has threatened to veto the appropriations bill if the Sanders amendment makes it through the Senate. Whether the Senate will approve the measure, and whether there could be enough enthusiasm to override a veto if that happens, are very much open questions.

But it is good to see Congress taking a second look at the "Patriot" Act, now that Members have finally had the opportunity to read it and consider its implications. Whether the Sanders amendment succeeds or not, Wednesday's House vote serves at least as a sign that the Act's future may be marked by occasional, incremental climbdowns from the paranoia and authoritarianism that it represents. ®

Related stories

Library use an open book as Pat Act renewals loom
Feds beg Congress to expand PATRIOT Act
US judge raises bar on net privacy

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