Blakeslee backs reader privacy in concept

State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, supports in concept a reader privacy bill making its way through the Legislature, but wants to assess its possible implications before voting yes on it, his office says.

The bill — SB 602 — would require government agencies to seek a warrant before accessing consumers’ reading records from bookstores and online retailers, according to its sponsor, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.

It will, if passed, update California state law to ensure that government and third parties cannot access Californians’ reading records without proper justification.

The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week on a 4-0 vote, with Blakeslee not voting. Blakeslee was in Washington, D.C., on the day of the committee vote.

Blakeslee “supports the policy conceptually, though he will be researching the intended and unintended results of how Sen. Yee’s bill is drafted prior to voting for the bill,” Blakeslee’s aide, Erin Shaw, told The Tribune in an email.

Yee has praised the bipartisan support he has been receiving on his legislation, which he calls the Reader Privacy Act of 2011.

“I am very pleased that both Democrats and Republicans agree that current law is completely inadequate when it comes to protecting one’s privacy for book purchases, especially for online shopping and electronic books,” Yee said in a news release.

“Individuals should be free to buy books without fear of government intrusion and witch hunts,” he added. “If law enforcement has reason to suspect wrongdoing, they can obtain a warrant for such information.”

Citizens’ privacy from government intrusion has often popped up in American history, Yee wrote, most notoriously during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

In the years that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, he added, the FBI sought patron information from more than 200 libraries.

“Many bookstores,” Yee went on, “already collect information about readers and their purchases. Digital book services can collect even more detailed information, including which books are browsed, how long each page is viewed, and even digital notes made in the margins.”

Just this past year, he wrote, Amazon was asked by the North Carolina Department of Revenue to turn over 50 million purchase records, including books, videos, and other expressive material.SB 602 has been referred to the Committee on Appropriations.