The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression has filed a brief supporting the ACLU's lawsuit against a section of the U.S.A. Patriot Act that may allow the FBI to look at booksellers' electronically kept information without seeking a court order.

Section 505 authorizes the FBI to issue National Security Letters (NSL) to obtain any customer's "subscriber information," "toll billing records information" and "electronic communication transactional records" whenever the agency believes this information is relevant to a terrorism or clandestine intelligence investigation. In April, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a plaintiff who had been served with an NSL, on the grounds that Section 505 violates the First Amendment. In addition to granting the FBI access to the electronic information, the section includes a gag order prohibiting businesses or individuals from revealing that they'd been searched.

ABFFE joined the American Library Association and the AAP's Freedom to Read Committee in filing its amicus brief supporting the ACLU's case last week. Though ABFFE has been vigorously battling the Patriot Act for more than two years, this is the first time it has turned its attention to Section 505. "This wasn't something that we had focused on before, but the closer we looked at it, the more we became concerned about it. The language is broad enough that it could be applied to any bookstore that offers the public access to the Internet on its premises or operates a Web site," said ABFFE president Chris Finan.

Until now, ABFFE's efforts have focused on Section 215 of the act, which grants the FBI broad powers to search a business's customer records without establishing probable cause. An ACLU lawsuit challenging that section, for which ABFFE also filed an amicus brief last year, is making its way through the courts.