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Wimberly, Jasey, Benson & Moriarty ‘Reader Privacy Act’ To Upgrade NJ Book Privacy Laws Clears Assembly Panel

Measure Would Extend Library Privacy Protections to Book Purchases, Including E-BooksM

Legislation Assembly Democrats Benjie E. Wimberly, Mila Jasey, Daniel R. Benson and Paul Moriarty sponsored to place readers and purchasers of books and electronic books under similar protections as library records by expanding New Jersey’s reader privacy law was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

The sponsors note that the invention of digital books and e-readers has raised questions around the country about privacy and broadening protections to include these new literary mediums. California and Arizona enacted similar legislation in 2011 extending library privacy laws to include digital book records.

“E-books and online purchases have redefined the way we read, buy and borrow books,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “These new methods raise questions regarding privacy and disclosure of personal information. Current law simply is too antiquated to adequately provide for confidentiality in the digital age. Individuals should be allowed to read and shop without fear of intrusion. Just as with books you borrow at the library, your e-book preferences should also remain private.”

The bill (A-1861) would enact the “Reader Privacy Act,” which extends reader privacy protections to book purchases, including the purchase of electronic books.

Under current law, library records that contain the names and other identifying details regarding library users are confidential and protected from disclosure except in certain circumstances. This bill extends similar protections to readers and purchasers of books and e-books.

“Times are changing rapidly in this evolving Internet era,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “The truth is, privacy has become more difficult to maintain in a world absorbed by the Internet and social media platforms. However, we must try to keep up. Extending library privacy laws to embrace the new ways people can acquire books is essential to keeping in step with the times.”

The sponsors also highlighted a July 2012 Wall Street Journal article, Your E-Book Is Reading You,” which outlines the types of information merchants and retailers now have access to through electronic readers and from purchases made through mega-merchants such as Amazon.

“It’s very intimidating how much information can be gathered from an e-reader and your purchases,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “With this legislation, New Jersey would continue to support innovation while beginning to look at greater protections for individuals who enjoy reading by electronic device.”

“This nation’s history of legal protection for reading privacy is rooted in our First Amendment right to freedom of expression, which is the foundation for this legislation,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Given the increased popularity of e-books, it’s important that we update our laws to protect readers and safeguard their right to freely and securely engage with various ideas.”

Under the bill, a law enforcement entity or other government entity may only seek disclosure of the personal information of an individual who uses a book service, defined as a service that, as its primary purpose, provides for the rental, purchase, borrowing, browsing or viewing of books, in the following circumstances:

  • Disclosure is requested or consented to by the user;
  • Disclosure is pursuant to a subpoena or court order;
  • A government entity requires that a provider serving an institution of higher education disclose the personal information of a book service user to a government entity in order to be reimbursed for the sale or rental of a book that was purchased or rented by a student using book vouchers or other financial aid subsidies for books.

The bill was advanced by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee, of which Moriarty is chair.