California took another big step towards updating reader privacy today. The State Senate unanimously passed SB602, the Reader Privacy Act, which would bring book privacy law into the digital age. The bill prevents the disclosure of information about readers from booksellers without a warrant in a criminal case or a court order in a civil case, and also requires booksellers to report the number and type of requests that they receive so that we can track government demands for reader information.
The bill, authored by State Senator Leland Yee, and sponsored by EFF and the ACLU, won bi-partisan support, and it’s easy to see why. The books we choose to read reveal deeply private information about what we think, believe, question, and worry over. This data could lead people to interpret — or misinterpret — things like our political and religious beliefs, our health concerns, and our financial situations, so the standards for disclosure must remain high.
But while reader privacy in bricks and mortar public libraries is already well established in California law, it’s time for a 21st Century upgrade. Digital book services, libraries, and bookstores collect far more information than physical bookstores and libraries do, creating an unprecedented data trail about your intellectual life. Information collected can include books browsed, how long a page is viewed, and even the electronic notes written in the margins. This sensitive information needs legislative protection, so it doesn’t become a tempting target for the government or other litigants, like those involved in divorce cases, custody battles, or insurance disputes.
EFF has been working on this bill for several months now, officially sponsoring SB602 along with the American Civil Liberties Union. Google, the Consumer Federation of California, the California Library Association and many other groups also support the bill. Now, the next step is the State Assembly. Californians should let their state lawmakers know that The Reader Privacy Act is an important privacy update, and ask them to support SB 602.