Patriot Act Petitions: Customers Keep Signing; Booksellers Keep Collecting

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Catherine Price of Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont, called Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act -- a provision that gives the FBI broad authority to search bookstore and library records -- "a form of censorship -- subtle, but censorship nonetheless…. It could inhibit people from reading books they might want to read."

Gauging from the number of signatures the store has garnered in support of the Campaign for Reader Privacy (CRP),, Norwich Bookstore's customers wholeheartedly agree. Price estimated that the store has collected well over 1,000 signatures from patrons in her small town, which has a population just over 3,500 -- and will continue to do so through the remainder of the summer. "[The petition pads] are placed right on our counter, where people come to pay," she said. "People have thanked us for it. [What people read] is not anything the government should be concerned about."

CRP -- a nationwide grassroots petition drive to raise awareness about the threat to the privacy of bookstore and library records posed by the USA Patriot Act -- was launched in February and is sponsored by ABA, the American Library Association, and PEN American Center. Phase I of the petition drive is due to culminate with a planned presentation of signed petitions to Congress in late September 2004.

With a major battle expected in Congress in 2005 over the reauthorization of provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire -- and a number of bills that seek to amend Section 215 being considered -- the petition drive has taken on an added urgency. This, especially after Rep. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) Freedom to Read Amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State (CJS) Appropriations Bill, died in a tie vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in early July.

"We'll continue supporting [CRP]!" said Linda Barrett Knopp of Malaprop's in Asheville, North Carolina. Her store has already garnered over 1,000 signatures. "We have it on the front counter -- it's extremely prominent. Customers are concerned about the Patriot Act." Knopp said the store held a forum on the Patriot Act last year and plans to hold another forum "hopefully before the election."

For answers to frequently asked questions about the bookstore drive to collect customer signatures, click here.

Booksellers can order additional petition pads by calling ABA's Information Department at (800) 637-0037, ext. 1292 or 1293, or for a downloadable PDF of the petition, click here.

To help participating booksellers garner press coverage for the petition drive, ABA has created a press release template that bookstores can use to bring the campaign to the attention of their local media. To access the sample release, click here.

To read about independent booksellers' efforts in the campaign, click here. --David Grogan