Monday, October 3, 2011

My Interview on AB 22 (Mendoza), and Governor Signs SB 602 (Reader Privacy Act)

A little less than two weeks ago I put together a major post on job seeker privacy, particularly when it comes to employers increasing use of intrusive background checks, most notably of your credit reports.

Rather than go into detail here again, let me just point you to the interview I did on the Rick Smith Show last week about legislation here in California, AB 22 (Mendoza), that would ban prospective employers from accessing your credit scores unless its directly related to the job your applying for. The Governor has until October 9th to decide.

Now to some great news...the Governor signed Senator Leland Yee's Reader Privacy Act (SB 602) on Sunday. As I've noted in the past here, The privacy threats posed by the explosion of digital books, which will store data that can include books browsed, how long a page is viewed, and even the electronic notes written in the margins. It's not hard to see the detailed portrait this could paint of your life.

Thankfully, this concern will finally be addressed by SB 602 (Yee) - which now will provide important privacy protections for digital book readers. Without such legislative protection, you can imagine how tempting this information could be to the government or other litigants, like those involved in divorce cases, custody battles, or insurance disputes.

In the case of digital books, we're not talking about just another library - librarians utilize a different standards for dealing with user information than does the online world. Many libraries routinely delete borrower information, and organizations such as the American Library Association have fought hard to preserve the privacy of their patrons in the face of laws such as the U.S. Patriot Act.

What the bill will do is update California's privacy protections in the digital age by preventing the disclosure of information about readers from booksellers without a warrant in a criminal case or a court order in a civil case. It also requires booksellers to report the number and type of requests they receive to track government demands for reader information. Without such protections, we're talking about a virtual one-stop shop for government and third party fishing expeditions into the personal details of our lives.

Here's what PC magazine had to say about the legislation being signed:

The bill, known as the Reader Privacy Act of 2011, will require government agencies to obtain a court order before they access customer records from book stores or online retailers. It will officially become law on January 1. 

"California law was completely inadequate when it came to protecting one's privacy for book purchases, especially for online shopping and electronic books," said Calif. state Sen. Leland Yee, the bill's sponsor. "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."

Sen. Yee pointed to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, where Americans were questioned about whether they had read Marx or Lenin. In the years since September 11, meanwhile, the FBI has sought information from more than 200 libraries, he said. The bill was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as well as Google, TechNet, and the Consumer Federation of California.

"Reading choices reveal intimate facts about our lives, from our political and religious beliefs to our health concerns. Digital books and book services can paint an even more detailed picture—including books browsed but not read, particular pages viewed, how long spent on each page, and any electronic notes made by the reader," the EFF said in a statement. 

"Without strong privacy protections like the ones in the Reader Privacy Act, reading records can be too easily targeted by government scrutiny as well as exposed in legal proceedings like divorce cases and custody battles. Legal protections must keep up with technological advances," said Valerie Small Navarro, Legislative Advocate with the ACLU of California. 

Click here to read more.

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