Booksellers Mount Petition Drive for the Freedom to Read Protection Act

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

At Maria's Bookshop in Durango, Colorado, owners Peter Schertz and Andrea Avantaggio are speaking out about keeping secrets. The secrets are the purchases made by customers, and the books and Web sites used by library patrons. They do not believe any of that information should be released to government agents without explanation. However, under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11, federal investigators can demand that information of booksellers and library personnel, who are then forbidden to inform patrons of the disclosure.

That's why Schertz is now leading a petition drive in an effort to convince congressional and senate representatives to support the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in March. A similar bill, the Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158) was introduced into the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in late May.

Thus far, over 300 people at Maria's Bookshop have signed the petition, and more are added every day. Schertz told BTW, "I'm really glad we can be in favor of something instead of always against everything. I took the petition to almost all the bookstores in town." At least two others, Southwest Book Traders and The Bookshelf, are also actively collecting signatures.

Schertz will present all of the petitions to Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) at the end of June.

Discussions of both the Patriot Act and the Freedom to Read Protection Act have taken place all around Durango; Schertz has presented information to groups about the impact of Section 215 on privacy; and the city council of Durango is considering declaring the city a "Patriot Act Free Zone," rendering the Freedom to Read Protection Act moot for local residents.

In a front page article in the Durango Herald, Sherry Taber, director of the Durango Public Library and an outspoken supporter of Sanders' bill, said, "A Colorado law has long been in place to protect the privacy of user records, prohibiting their disclosure without a subpoena. The Patriot Act supercedes that and is potentially a greater violation of privacy to everything that was protected before."

In the same article, Jeff Frisbie, director of the Reed Library at Fort Lewis College said that, according to the Patriot Act, federal investigators can put monitoring devices on public computers in a library and can view patrons' Web activities. "Under the new rules, library workers are prohibited from informing patrons of the surveillance," he said.

At present, Sanders' bill has 117 co-sponsors, 13 of whom are Republicans. However, neither Rep. McInnis, nor Sen. Campbell has added his name to the bills amending Section 215 of the Patriot Act. In fact, a spokesperson for McInnis's office stated that the Congressman would not support Sanders bill, as reported by the Durango Herald. Meanwhile, Campbell's press secretary told the Durango Herald that the Senator values "freedom and individual privacy" and is in the process of reviewing Sen. Boxer's bill. Thus far, S. 1158 does not have any co-sponsors. (For a list of co-sponsors of H.R. 1157, click here.)

Schertz has been very pleased with the response of the community and the help he has received from American Booksellers for Freedom of Expression. He concluded, "As a business, the store has tried to stay out of the political arena, but this was too close to home. Today [the Patriot Act] is targeting books on terrorism; next, it could be Harry Potter." –Nomi Schwartz