Speech by ABA COO Oren Teicher Before the Westchester County Board of Legislators

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Good evening, my name is Oren Teicher. In addition to being a lifetime resident of Westchester County, I am the COO of the ABA, the national trade group for America's independent retail bookstores, whose national headquarters, as some of you know, is located in Tarrytown.

I want to commend the County Board for placing this resolution about the Patriot Act under consideration and express my appreciation to the Westchester Bill of Rights Defense Campaign for their myriad efforts in rallying support. I'm here tonight because of their efforts. I get to travel all across the country to talk about these issues so it is particularly gratifying to be able to do so here in my own home county.

America's bookstores -- along with our colleagues in the library community -- have long been active in the fight for free expression, believing passionately that as a society we are far better off when the widest array of ideas are readily available to the public. Like most Americans, we failed to appreciate the dangers and threats to our liberties that were included in the Patriot Act when it was first passed in the aftermath of 9/11.

While I understand that the resolution before you deals with the Patriot Act as a whole, bookstores are particularly concerned with Section 215 -- which grants extraordinary super powers to the FBI to ascertain information about what we are reading -- even if we are not suspected of any terrorist activity, or for that matter, of any other crime. Let me be clear -- we do not claim any absolute right to privacy. We recognize that there may be unusual circumstances when appropriate law enforcement authorities may be able to convince a court of law -- in an open hearing -- to issue a search warrant to a bookstore and/or library. But Section 215 mandates that a bookseller or librarian turn over information about specific titles that an individual may have bought from a store or borrowed from a library -- without the benefit of any due process whatsoever.

Many of us believe that the best tribute we can pay to those who died on September 11 is to do whatever we can to preserve what it is that America is all about -- and the worst thing we could do would be to cave in to the terrorists and allow them to dictate how we behave as Americans. Star chamber proceedings, where the rights of the reading public are trampled upon, and any right to due process is cavalierly discarded, is not the kind of America most of us want.

Over the past months, bookstores across the country have been collecting signatures from the reading public urging Congress to repeal Section 215, and I can tell you that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of those petitions have flooded our offices in Tarrytown. Two weeks from tomorrow, we'll be presenting those petitions to members of Congress in Washington. I thought it best not to bring those petitions over tonight to add to your already tall pile of papers but wanted you to know -- that on their way to Washington -- those signatures have made a stop here in Westchester County. And I'd dearly love to report to the stores who have collected all those signatures that the ABA is proudly located in one of the many jurisdictions throughout the U.S. that recognizes that the Patriot Act goes too far.

This is not a partisan issue. The legislation introduced in Congress to repeal Section 215 is truly bi-partisan. The lead bill in the U.S. Senate has been introduced by a very conservative Republican: Senator Larry Craig of Idaho. And I can tell you that the country is starting to listen. In a test vote back in July, we fought to a literal draw in the House of Representatives and, had it not been for some procedural shenanigans, we would have prevailed.

I represent the owners and operators of independent retail businesses -- small business people who believe that America is stronger because of the protections granted in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And I hope that -- on behalf of all of us in Westchester County -- you'll support this resolution and send a message that -- at least here in Westchester -- the First Amendment is alive and well.

Thanks for your attention.