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Will Protect Privacy of E-Book Users


TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nia H. Gill and Senator Peter Barnes to update the state’s reader privacy laws by extending protections to books that are purchased either at a bookstore or from an online provider – such as Amazon, Apple or Google – was approved today by a Senate committee.

“For years, state law has protected residents’ library records from disclosure. Unfortunately, these protections do not apply to records of books purchased at a bookstore or on commonly used online sites, where the reading habits of consumers can easily be tracked,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “As technology advances, we need to ensure that residents are shielded from searches of their book browsing or purchasing history. By extending our reader privacy laws to include modern technologies, we will better protect the privacy of consumers.”

“Consumers who buy books online or download them to their e-readers should not have to be concerned with whether information on the books they have searched, purchased or read online could be made public,” said Senator Barnes (D-Middlesex). “This bill will safeguard this information unless there is a compelling case for disclosure.”

The major companies in e-book publishing can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.

Under current state law, library records which contain the names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of libraries are confidential and protected from disclosure except in certain circumstances.  The Reader Privacy Act, S-967, would extend similar protections to the readers and purchasers of books and e-books. Under the legislation, the provider of a book service would be prohibited from disclosing the personal information of a user unless there is a court order, the book service user has provided informed consent, or in the interest of public safety under certain circumstances. The bill is similar to a law instituted in California in 2012.

“This is common-sense legislation that will ensure that information about the books consumers have browsed, purchased or read online is not disclosed unless there is a proven public need,” said Senator Barnes. “This bill will help strike an appropriate balance between consumer protection and the need to protect public safety.”

“Residents should be free to purchase books on any subject, whether it be online or at their local bookstore, without fear of intrusion by the government or anyone else,” said Senator Gill. “Modernizing our laws will ensure that books that consumers search for or read on their iPad or Kindle are not subject to searches by law enforcement or the government without an appropriate court order.”

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved the bill by a vote of 12-0-1.