Measure Would Extend Library Privacy Protections to Book Purchases, Including E-Books
Legislation Assembly Democrats Benjie E. Wimberly, Mila Jasey, Daniel R. Benson and Paul Moriarty sponsored to place purchases of books and electronic books under similar protections as library records by expanding New Jersey’s law on reader privacy recently was approved by the General Assembly.
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” to extend 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 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 reader 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,” if disclosure is requested or consented to by the user or if disclosure is pursuant to a subpoena or court order.
In addition to making it illegal to seek disclosure of the aforementioned information, the measure would make it illegal for booksellers, including audiobook sellers, to disclose the information unless permitted by the user or required by a subpoena or court order.
The bill makes an exception for campus booksellers who must disclose the information in order to be reimbursed for book sales and rentals by students using book vouchers or other financial aid subsidies. It also makes an exception for cases in which a law enforcement entity asserts that there is an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury requiring the immediate disclosure of the requested personal information and that there is insufficient time to obtain a subpoena or court order.
The bill was approved 72-2 on March 23 and now awaits Senate consideration.