Bookseller Purges Files to Avoid
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Some booksellers are troubled by a post-Sept. 11
federal law that gives the government broad powers to seize the records
of bookstores and libraries to find out what people have been reading.
Bear Pond Books in Montpelier will purge purchase records for customers
if they ask, and it has already dumped the names of books bought by its
``When the CIA comes and asks what you've read because they're
suspicious of you, we can't tell them because we don't have it,'' store
co-owner Michael Katzenberg said. ``That's just a basic right, to be
able to read what you want without fear that somebody is looking over
your shoulder to see what you're reading.''
The Patriot Act approved after the 2001 terrorist attacks allows
government agents to seek court orders to seize records ``for an
investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine
Such court orders cannot be challenged like a traditional subpoena. In
fact, bookstores and libraries are barred from telling anyone if they
U.S. Attorney Peter Hall played down concern that government agents
might soon be darkening the door at Vermont bookstores and libraries.
``Only in very rare and limited and supervised circumstances would
anyone be seeking that sort of business information from a bookseller, a
library or a business of any sort,'' Hall said.
He also said businesses can do whatever they want with purchase records
as long as the material isn't being sought under a court order.
Such record requests from bookstores were becoming more frequent even
before the attacks.
Kramer's Books in Washington won a court order blocking independent
counsel Kenneth Starr from getting records of purchases by Monica
Lewinsky during his investigation of the sex scandal involving President
Clinton. And the Colorado Supreme Court ruled last year for a Denver
book store in its fight against a subpoena of purchase records by a
defendant in a drug case.
The court found that ``compelled disclosure of book-buying records
threatens to destroy the anonymity upon which many customers depend.''
Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers' Foundation for
Freedom of Expression, said booksellers until now have frequently kept
lists of books their customers read as a matter of marketing. Some offer
discounts to frequent customers or send a notice when a favorite author
has a new release.
Finan said he wasn't aware of any widespread move by booksellers to
purge such lists.
Peggy Bresee was in Bear Pond Books recently to buy ``War is a Force
That Gives Us Meaning'' and ``The Best Democracy Money Can Buy'' as
birthday gifts for a son who lives in Utah. She had the store purge the
``It really does make me feel so much better,'' she said. ``They're
protecting those of us who are readers. It matters.'
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