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Wimberly, Jasey Introduce "Reader Privacy Act" Bill Upgrading NJ Book Privacy for the Digital Age

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

The rise in popularity of digital book purchasing, borrowing and concerns for individual privacy protections has prompted Assembly Democrats Benjie E. Wimberly and Mila M. Jasey to introduce legislation that would place readers and purchasers of books and electronic books –“e-Books”– under similar protections as library records by expanding reader privacy law.

Wimberly and Jasey note the invention of digital books and e-readers has raised questions around the country about privacy and broadening protections to include new literary mediums. California 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 is simply too antiquated to adequately provide confidentiality the digital age we are in.

“Individuals should be allowed to read, shop without fear of intrusion. Just as with books you borrow at the library, your e-book preferences should also remain private.”

Under current law, library records which contain the names of other personally identifying details regarding the users of libraries are confidential and protected from disclosure except in certain circumstances. The bill defines “book service” as a service that, as its primary purpose, provides the rental, purchase, borrowing, browsing, or viewing of 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 social media and the internet. However, we must try to keep up.

“We can begin by extending library privacy laws to cover new media and the new ways people are reading.”

The legislators also cite an article Wall Street Journal recently published, “Your E-Book Is Reading You,” discussing the types of information merchants and retailers now have access to through electronic readers and from purchases made through mega-merchants such as Amazon.

“Enlightening and very intimidating how much information can be gathered from an e-reader and your purchases,” added Wimberly. “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.”

“As we progress in the digital era, we will have to upgrade and plug-in to the reality that this is a new world, a digital world,” added Jasey. “Our laws must also protect and provide for this reality.”

Under the bill’s provisions, a provider of a book service many only disclose the personal information of a book service user in the following circumstances: To law enforcement in an ongoing criminal investigation; to a person, private entity or non-law enforcement government entity in pursuant to a court order; with a book service user’s informed consent; in cases of imminent danger or death or serious physical injury requiring the immediate disclosure; and if the provider believes that the personal information is evidence directly related to a crime against the provider or that user.

The measure was referred to the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee.