Reader privacy bill clears a hurdle

A bill designed to protect readers from government intrusion passed the Assembly on Wednesday on a vote of 56-12, moving it a step closer to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

Central Coast Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, voted against the legislation.

Known as the Reader Privacy Act of 2011, SB 602 would require government agencies to seek a court order if they want to access consumers’ reading records from bookstores and online retailers.

It would give book purchasers the same privacy protections library patrons now have.

“Individuals should be free to buy books without fear of government intrusion and witch hunts,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. “If law enforcement has reason to suspect wrongdoing, they can obtain a court order.”

Yee and other supporters say it is essential for state law “to keep pace and safeguard readers in the digital age. Electronic or digital books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon.com and over 18 million e-readers are expected to be sold in 2012,” Yee wrote in a news release.

“California should be a leader in ensuring that upgraded technology does not mean downgraded privacy,” said Valerie Small Navarro, legislative advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We should be able to read about anything from politics, to religion to health without worrying that the government might be looking over our shoulder,” she said.

Achadjian’s office said he supports the bill in principle “but wanted to see it amended to make it clear that law enforcement could get the information through a subpoena.”

“It is our understanding, that as written, the bill places additional burdens on law enforcement agencies when seeking a subpoena of e-reader records that do not apply to other types of subpoenas,” a news release from the Assemblyman’s office stated.

The bill earlier passed the state Senate unanimously, and now goes back there for a procedural vote.