Bookseller Calls for Seattle to Pass Anti-Patriot Act Resolution

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The King County Council of Seattle is presently considering a resolution to oppose any amendments in the USA Patriot Act that it deems to infringe on the constitutional rights of its citizens -- including Patriot Act amendments that allow for invasion of privacy, expanded government surveillance, and denial of due process, as reported by the Seattle Times.

On November 10, Phillip Bevis, owner of the independent Arundel Books -- and a conservative who volunteered for both of President Ronald Reagan's presidential campaigns -- testified before the council about why he vehemently opposes the USA Patriot Act and believes Seattle should pass the resolution.

The reason? The Patriot Act is bad for business.

The following is a transcript of Bevis' speech.

Members of the Council … I thank you for the opportunity to address you this morning, on what is, for my companies, an important business issue. Yes, I said business issue.

I am a businessman. I am the principal owner of retail and Internet bookstores in Seattle, Vashon Island [Washington], and Los Angeles. My Seattle business is near the Fed Building on First Avenue. I am also a conservative who volunteered for both Reagan campaigns.

I am not here to talk to you about principles or civil rights. I'm here to talk to you about business, and what my customers, and your constituents demand.

Arundel Books' privacy policy originated in 1995 as a result of customer demand. We had literally thousands of buyers insist that we keep their personal information and purchases private. The vote on this was thousands to none. Reassuring buyers became so time-consuming that we wrote the policy to save time and money.

I do not oppose the Patriot Act's provisions that affect bookstores just from principle, but from hard and costly experience. Just before 9/11, the FBI served us a Justice Department subpoena demanding six-and-a-half years of our customer records. They wanted to know what a politician and his friends read.

We fought that and won not just because of principle -- but also [because of] self interest. If our customers think the government will find out what they buy from us -- they will not buy from us. They tell us so every day.

You may have seen recently in the business section of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer a New York Times article on how the Patriot Act is adversely affecting Arundel Books and other U.S. online booksellers. It is hurting our ability to serve our customers and changing the way some people buy controversial books, and seems to be driving some Internet sales to offshore sites, which is bad for U.S. business and U.S. jobs.

If not for the Patriot Act, Arundel Books would have hired one additional employee, so it has cost Seattle one job I know of already. You may think that this law is outside your purview, but I can assure you it is not -- this is a local issue.

The Patriot Act was passed in the heat of the moment. Irrespective of which party is in power, I am opposed to the sections of this law that pertain to bookstores and libraries. Moreover, I have direct personal experience of government interest in the reading habits of politicians and urge you to consider that at length.

Our trade association -- the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression -- is marshalling support behind Republican Senator (of Idaho) [Larry] Craig's bill to repeal the Acts' provisions relating to bookstore and libraries. Virtually every company in my [line of] business -- large or small -- is opposed this aspect of the Patriot Act and in favor of Senator Craig's bill -- and, in fact, I know of none in our industry who are in favor of these sections of the Act. (For a previous article on Craig's bill, click here.)

Opposition to these aspects of the Patriot Act is quickly becoming bi-partisan, and this is one of those votes people will remember.

Support this [anti-Patriot Act] resolution on principle, because it's bad for business, because it's what your constituents want, or because you believe that government should not intrude on the privacy of it citizens.

Thank you very much.

[Note: For more on ABFFE's efforts to garner support for legislation that seeks to protect the privacy of bookstore and library patrons' records jeopardized by Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, click here.]