Customer Support Sought in Campaign to Amend Patriot Act

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While booksellers and librarians have taken a leading, and crucial, role in efforts to restore the protections for customer privacy that were eliminated by the USA Patriot Act, ABA now wants bookstores to call on customers to lend a hand to the cause, too -- literally.

In the January White Box sent to stores with Book Sense, ABA has included a pad of petitions that booksellers can use to gather signatures of customers who support amending Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The petitions, stressed ABA COO Oren Teicher in a letter that accompanies the pad, are the centerpiece of this year's campaign to amend the Patriot Act. The ultimate goal is to garner at least one million signatures.

Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act gives law enforcement officials broad authority to demand that libraries or bookstores turn over books, records, papers, and documents, and was passed in the wake of the terrorist strikes of 9/11. However, last year a grassroots campaign undertaken by Vermont booksellers and librarians attracted the attention of U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In March, Sanders introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), the first bill looking to restrict the power granted by the Patriot Act. By year's end, the Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158), and the Library, Bookseller, and Personal Data Privacy Act (S. 1507) had been introduced in the Senate.

In his letter to Book Sense booksellers, Teicher wrote: "By the end of the year, three states and over 200 communities around the country had passed anti-Patriot Act resolutions. H.R. 1157 had 143 co-sponsors, and similar legislation had been introduced in the Senate. In fact, we raised such a ruckus that Attorney General John Ashcroft was forced to tour the country trying to build support for the Patriot Act.

"But we still have a hard fight ahead, and we are determined to redouble our efforts to amend the Patriot Act … and, we need your help and participation."

Furthermore, he stressed, "We want to start gathering signatures immediately. Our goal is to have a large number in hand by the spring when we will present them (hopefully, with booksellers present) to members of Congress in their home district at events that we hope will be well covered by the local press. We are also planning to hold a national press event at which petitions from around the country will be delivered to Washington."

The petition incorporates the FREADOM logo developed last year by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE). ABA also recommends that booksellers use some of the FREADOM products as part of their petition gathering effort. In addition to giving customers another way to express their support, the proceeds will support ABFFE, which has been at the forefront of the effort to amend the Patriot Act. Booksellers can order FREADOM products online through the ABFFE Web site, www.abffe.com.

Participation in the petition campaign is simple and open to all booksellers. Once booksellers gather a significant number of signatures, they should forward them to Teicher at ABA (828 S. Broadway, Tarrytown, NY 10591). There, ABA staff will collate them in preparation for delivery to Congress. Booksellers should be sure to fill in the store name and where the signatures were collected at the bottom of the petition.

For those bookstores that do not receive a White Box mailing, petition pads can be obtained by contacting ABA's Information Department at info@bookweb.org or (800) 637-0037, ext. 1292 or 1293.

In conclusion, Teicher urged booksellers to "think seriously about joining our campaign. Generating a few hundred signatures from your store might not seem very useful. But remember what a handful of booksellers in Vermont have already achieved…. With your help, we can win this fight!"

To read Teicher's letter in full, click here. -- David Grogran