Letter from Oren Teicher on Campaign for Reader Privacy

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Dear Bookseller:

We have entered the final phase of the fight to restore the privacy protections of bookstore and library records that were eliminated by the USA PATRIOT Act. 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 were heard! In July, a majority of the members of the House of Representatives voted to cut off funds for bookstore and library searches under Section 215. Unfortunately, that result was wiped out when extraordinary political pressure was used to force enough members of Congress to change their votes. But the vote demonstrated that support for amending Section 215 is growing.

2005 will be a critical year in determining the fate of Section 215. As part of the compromise that led to the passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001, Section 215 and other provisions of the law that threaten civil liberties are due to expire on December 31. President Bush has already announced that he will seek to make these provisions permanent, and hearings are expected in both the House and Senate this spring.

Once again, ABA is joining with our allies in the Campaign for Reader Privacy to battle for amendments to Section 215. Ideally, we would like to see the provision "sunset" on schedule at the end of the year. But we will also strongly support legislation to ensure that any bill reenacting this provision contains adequate safeguards for the confidentiality of bookstore and library patrons' records. Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reintroduced his Freedom to Read Protection Act last month and already has more than 100 co-sponsors; similar bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The success of our efforts will depend on you. We must show Congress that booksellers -- and our customers -- continue to believe that First Amendment rights are undermined by a law that gives the FBI virtually unlimited access to bookstore and library records; prevents us from challenging requests for documents in court; and even bars us from revealing the fact that we have been ordered to turn over records.

ABA will resume the petition campaign that was so successful last year. We are distributing a redesigned petition and a new bookmark that asks, "Is Someone Reading Over Your Shoulder?" The petition forms and bookmarks are being mailed to all Book Sense stores. Others may order them by calling ABA at (800) 637-0037, ext. 292. The petition can also be downloaded at www.bookweb.org/pdf/OverYourShoulderPetition.pdf.

In addition, ABA will be contacting booksellers who live or do business in the districts of key members of the House and Senate in an effort to set up meetings with their representatives at their local offices.

We are extremely grateful for the hard work that so many of you have done on this issue already. We have made tremendous progress. Another strong push by you and your customers will carry the day. With your help, we're confident that we can prevail. In the words (almost) of Shakespeare's Henry V:

"Once more unto the breach, dear booksellers. Once more!"


Oren J. Teicher