New California Law Is a Historic Victory for Reader Privacy

Sacramento, CA – California Governor Jerry Brown has signed the Reader Privacy Act of 2011, updating reader privacy law to ensure that readers—-whether they buy books at traditional bookstores or read e-books online or on electronic devices—-will have protection for their privacy. The bill will become law on January 1, 2012.

The American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sponsored the bill, which was authored by California State Senator Leland Yee. The bill was supported by Google, TechNet and the Consumer Federation of California, along with the Internet Archive, City Lights Bookstore, and award-winning authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman.

“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, which supported the Reader Privacy Act.

The books we read reveal private, often sensitive information about our political and religious beliefs, our health concerns, and our personal lives. And throughout history, government and third parties have tried to collect evidence of these reading habits to trample unpopular ideas and beliefs and watch activists. That’s why California law has long recognized the importance of safeguarding reading records and other expressive material. And that’s why the Reader Privacy Act is an essential update to maintain California’s long history of protecting individual privacy and free speech rights.

“This is great news for Californians, updating their privacy for the 21st Century,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “The Reader Privacy Act will help Californians protect their personal information whether they use new digital book services or their corner bookstore.”

“California law was completely inadequate when it came to protecting one’s privacy for book purchases, especially for online shopping and electronic books,” said Yee. “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.”

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