Booksellers Report Final Phase of CRP Going Strong

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It's likely that Karin Anna of Looking Glass Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, speaks for many independent booksellers when she describes the final phase of the Campaign for Reader Privacy as "very important." With Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act set to expire at the end of the year and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales acknowledging at Congressional Judiciary hearings that 215 needs some "clarification," it certainly appears that momentum is on the side of those in favor of amending the provision.

This means that the collection of signatures from bookstore customers declaring that Section 215 undermines their First Amendment rights could make a significant impact in Washington. Last year, more than 500 ABA member stores collected over 200,000 signatures on petitions demanding that Congress amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act. "We're going to work hard at this. Last year, we only missed by a few votes!" Anna said, referring to last July's tie vote in the House of Representatives on the Freedom to Read Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Bill.

For the final phase of the campaign, ABA has made available to bookstores new CRP materials -- including redesigned petitions and a new bookmark that asks, "Is Someone Reading Over Your Shoulder?" (The petition forms and bookmarks are also available by calling ABA at (800) 637-0037, ext. 1292 or 1293, or via download from

"We have the petition right up at the front counter," said Jay Herzog of Northtown Books in Arcata, California, who noted that he placed the petition pads right next to the bookmarks. "We've been active in the campaign since it began ... there's been a substantial amount of interest [from customers]." Herzog said that he's not heard a negative comment from any store patron. "There's been people who are glad we have the petition, and people who have been interested to find out [about 215]."

In the previous phase of CRP, Ariel Booksellers in New Paltz, New York, collected over 1,000 signatures. And while the independent hasn't reached that mark in this final phase, Ariel's Susan Avery told BTW, "It's going very well -- it's amazing. People come in just to sign the petition. You don't have to say anything, they see it on the counter, and they sign. No one says, 'I won't sign it.'" Avery noted with other petition campaigns the store has done -- mostly dealing with local issues -- there always seems to be a bit of controversy. "Here, there's no controversy." She added that the staff tries to stress to customers that "even if you signed the CRP petition [during the first phase], you should sign it again this time."

Looking Glass' Anna noted that she has the petitions on the front counter next to the bookmarks and letter from ABA. "The customer reaction has been great," she reported. "We already sent off four pages of signatures, and we have six more here at the store."

ABA's Teicher stressed that it's crucial for as many booksellers as possible to participate in CRP. "As a number of provisions in the Patriot Act, including Section 215, are scheduled to sunset, or expire, at the end of the year, and both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have scheduled hearings on the Act for early next week, it's important to remember we were heard last year," he said. "But now it's time to mobilize again for a final push to show Congress that booksellers -- and our customers -- continue to believe that First Amendment rights are undermined by this law."

At present, both the House and Senate Judiciaries are holding hearings on those provisions that are set to expire at the end of the year, including Section 215, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) has already conceded in the hearings that 215 is problematic. The push to amend the controversial act has garnered wide-ranging support from both conservatives and progressives alike, all of whom are concerned with the fact that the provision gives law enforcement officers broad authority to obtain citizens' bookstore, medical, business, and library records without probable cause. (For a related story, go to

On Saturday, June 4, at BookExpo America, Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), a co-sponsor of the Freedom to Read Protection Act, will provide the latest news on the fight in the House, including the efforts of the administration to reauthorize Section 215 before it expires at the end of the year. Nadler will speak during the program, "Is Someone Reading Over Your Shoulder?" which is sponsored by ABFFE, the Association of American Publishers, and the Freedom to Read Foundation. The program will be held in Room 1C 03 of the Javits Center at 1:30 p.m. --David Grogan