Tattered Cover Appeals Privacy Case

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Tattered Cover Appeals Privacy Case

The Tattered Cover Book Store issued a press release November 2 (below) announcing the store will appeal a judge's ruling that would allow police to search book purchase records. On October 30, an coalition organization called Friends of the First Amendment protested Denver DA Bill Ritter's decision to issue the search warrant. The protest earned a spot on 7News and a photo in the next day's Denver Post. In addition, MSNBC and Reuters picked up the story and carried the following quote: "'It's a sign of how fundamental freedoms and privacy are being eroded because of the drug war,' said David Kopel, research director at the ndependence Institute, a conservative think tank in Golden, Colorado." Kopel joined other Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Tyranny Response Team members for the protest.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DENVER, November 2, 2000

The Tattered Cover Book Store announced today that it will appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court a court order requiring it to turn over to police information about a customer's book purchases. In April, Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis and her attorney, Dan Recht, persuaded the police to delay the execution of a search warrant for the information and won a temporary restraining order pending a hearing in the Denver District Court. On Oct. 20, Denver District Court Judge J. Stephen Phillips narrowed the scope of the warrant but ordered Tattered Cover to reveal the contents of one of its shipping envelopes that police had removed from the trash of a suspected drug dealer. If we turn over this information, our customers will start wondering if we would ever do the same to them, Meskis said. It will undermine their confidence that we will do everything we can to protect the privacy of their purchases and make them afraid to buy controversial titles. That would be a tragedy for us, for them and for free speech.

During an Oct. 17 hearing, the Tattered Cover argued that police had failed to meet the legal test for demanding information about the purchases of a bookstore customer. A federal court in Washington, D.C., has ruled that customer records enjoy First Amendment protection and may only be subpoenaed if the police can show a "compelling" need for them. The Tattered Cover asserted that the police had failed to meet this test because, in their effort to identify the owner of an illegal methamphetamine laboratory, they had not interviewed witnesses who could have given them that information. Instead, they asked the Tattered Cover to identify the contents of the bookstore envelope that was found at the scene. They hope that it contained two books on the manufacture of methamphetamine that were found near the drug-making lab and that this will enable them to tie the purchaser to the crime. Recht argued that the information was not sufficiently important to justify the chilling effect that releasing it would have on free speech. Meskis is also concerned that the police are trying to use the content of books to help convict a suspect. "Reading a book is not a crime," she said today.

The Tattered Cover has received strong support for its position both in Denver and around the country. The "Denver Post" and the "Rocky Mountain News" have praised the store for refusing to bow to police demands. On Monday, the "News" published an editorial that expressed the hope that Tattered Cover would appeal Judge Phillips' decision. The same day, a group called Friends of the First Amendment demonstrated outside the office of the Denver District Attorney to protest the DA's decision to authorize the warrant to search the Tattered Cover.

The Tattered Cover is also being helped by the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), which is contributing toward the bookstore's legal costs. "The police are fishing in bookstore records with growing frequency, and we want it to stop," ABFFE president Chris Finan said. The Tattered Cover case comes only two years after Kenneth Starr subpoenaed two Washington bookstores for the records of Monica Lewinsky's book purchases. A subpoena for customer records was recently served on a Borders bookstore in Overland Park, Kansas, Finan said.

ABFFE filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Tattered Cover that was supported by 15 associations, including the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association, the Colorado Freedom of Information Council, PEN American Center, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Thomas Jefferson Center for Freedom of Expression and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

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