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NEW YORK - A large poster hangs ominously just inside the Jacob Javits Convention Center at this weekend's Book Expo, the nation's largest annual gathering of booksellers, authors, librarians and publishers.
"Your Book: Your Business," it reads.
The words summarize the near-unanimous opposition of those in the book business to a section of the Patriot Act up for congressional reauthorization by the end of the year.
Its provisions single out neither booksellers nor librarians, but their industry is rallying against them like none other, circulating petitions and lobbying lawmakers not to allow their renewal.
The provisions allow federal officials to search any written records, whether they be library records or bookstore receipts, without a grand jury subpoena. Investigators need only obtain a secret warrant from a federal judge, and those ordered to provide the records may not tell patrons that information about them has been shared.
"It's fair to say this is an issue the book industry has unanimity on, maybe the only one," said Christopher Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, a trade organization fighting the Patriot Act. "It's pretty remarkable because booksellers don't do many political petitions."
Finan's organization so far has collected 200,000 signatures. "People understand the threat of the government reading over their shoulders and being aware of the books they're buying, and they don't want government to have that power. . . . The bottom line is, we don't believe the libraries' and bookstores' records should be absolutely privileged, but we want there to be safeguards in place."
Independent bookstores such as Salt Lake City's Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore and The King's English are among those collecting signatures.
"Customers have not only signed our petition but also thanked us for bringing it to their attention," King's English owner Betsy Burton said. "Even Republicans, if they were aware of the implications of this, would be against it."
Tony Weller, of Sam Weller's, agrees. "If my reading makes me guilty, then they might as well imprison me now," he said.
Librarians worry that patrons will stop checking out books out of fear the government will track them. The American Library Association has publicly asked Congress to remove provisions allowing the government secret access to anyone's records.
"If the FBI comes into a library and asks for this information, they do have to bring a court order, but it's a secret court order," said Carol Brey-Casiano, American Library Association president.
Before the Patriot Act, investigators could get the same information, but their request had to be made public. "If the FBI needs this information, they can secure it. They don't need the Patriot Act to do it."
The association is conducting its own survey to see how often the act has been invoked to gain patrons' records.
"We don't want people to panic and think they can't use the library or that their privacy will be violated if they use the library," Brey-Casiano said. "But we think they should be aware of the potential uses of the Patriot Act."
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who supports renewing the entire Patriot Act, says as far as he knows, the provisions have rarely, if ever, been invoked.
He said any abuses under the act would have shown up by now - and they haven't.
"When we wrote the Patriot Act, we were very concerned about civil liberties and the rights of citizens not to be harassed," he said.
"Honest, decent, law-abiding citizens' civil liberties are protected under the Patriot Act. . . . You don't have any worries whatsoever."
Others, however, say it's impossible to tell whether or how often the provisions have been invoked, precisely because the searches are secret. "If they'd been in my library, I couldn't tell you," Brey-Casiano said.
She says the mere fact that officials could use the power legally if they wanted to is scary enough.
Independent U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Friday told a Book Expo gathering he will try again to get a measure passed that would restrict secret record checks to those suspected of aiding foreign entities.
An earlier bill narrowly failed in the House.
Sanders said the Patriot Act is part of a larger culture of secrecy in the Bush administration, and that Congress is not only trying to renew the Patriot Act but expand it.
On the other hand, "We have seen grass-roots organizations defend our constitutional rights in a way that hasn't been seen for decades," he said, noting that seven state legislatures and nearly 400 municipalities have passed resolutions against the Patriot Act.