Calif. Extends Library Privacy Laws to E-Books

by Chloe Albanesius, PC Magazine

California Governor Jerry Brown this week signed into law a bill that will extend privacy protections currently in place for library records to book purchases, including e-books.

The bill, known as the Reader Privacy Act of 2011, will require government agencies to obtain a court order before they access customer records from book stores or online retailers. It will officially become law on January 1.

"California law was completely inadequate when it came to protecting one’s privacy for book purchases, especially for online shopping and electronic books," said Calif. state Sen. Leland Yee, the bill’s sponsor. "Individuals should be free to buy books without fear of government intrusion and witch hunts. If law enforcement has reason to suspect wrongdoing, they should obtain a court order for such information."

Sen. Yee pointed to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, where Americans were questioned about whether they had read Marx or Lenin. In the years since September 11, meanwhile, the FBI has sought information from more than 200 libraries, he said.

The bill was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as well as Google, TechNet, and the Consumer Federation of California.

"Reading choices reveal intimate facts about our lives, from our political and religious beliefs to our health concerns. Digital books and book services can paint an even more detailed picture’including books browsed but not read, particular pages viewed, how long spent on each page, and any electronic notes made by the reader," the EFF said in a statement. "Without strong privacy protections like the ones in the Reader Privacy Act, reading records can be too easily targeted by government scrutiny as well as exposed in legal proceedings like divorce cases and custody battles."

In a blog post, Google state policy manager Leslie Miller, said "it’s important that our laws reflect the way people live their lives today." The bill "takes a careful, balanced approach, protecting readers’ privacy while allowing for legitimate law enforcement access with a warrant or under specific, narrow exceptions," she wrote.

"California will have the strongest laws in the country protecting reader privacy in the digital era. That’s good for consumers and supports innovation. Legal protections must keep up with technological advances," said Valerie Small Navarro, Legislative Advocate with the ACLU of California.

In May, Amazon announced that its customers were purchasing more Kindle books than print books. Since April 1, Amazon sold 105 Kindle books for every 100 print books purchased. Amazon did not count free Kindle books in its tally; if it did, that would make the number even higher, the company said.

In March, meanwhile, Apple said users have downloaded 100 million e-books via is iBooks platform.

Google has also been working for some time to digitize the world’s books, starting in 2004 when it partnered with major university libraries to scan their collections and make them available on the Internet. The AAP and the Author’s Guild sued Google for copyright infringement in 2005, however, and the two sides have been battling it out for a workable arrangement ever since."