Digital due process for e-book readers

E-book sales are booming, creating new opportunity for authors and publishers. E-books have also fundamentally changed the way that readers discover and access books, opening vast libraries and making them available in the cloud via Google Books and other providers.

But the laws governing your rights as a reader haven’t evolved nearly as quickly. Forty-eight states have special “books laws” that limit when the government can compel disclosure of records regarding your book buying and reading. It’s not always clear, however, to what extent such laws apply to booksellers, including online stores.

It’s important that our laws reflect the way people live their lives today. That’s why we’re pleased to see that California signed into law the Reader Privacy Act, which clarifies the law and ensures that there are high standards before booksellers -- whether they’re selling print or digital books -- can be compelled to turn over reading records. This law takes a careful, balanced approach, protecting readers’ privacy while allowing for legitimate law enforcement access with a warrant or under specific, narrow exceptions. This bill was sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee, championed by the ACLU of Northern California and Electronic Frontier Foundation, and supported by a number of others, including Google.

We believe that our laws should protect individuals from unwarranted government intrusion in the online world no less than they do in the home, library, or bookstore, even as information and computing technology continue to advance. This is why we already invoke existing “books laws” when necessary to protect readers’ privacy, and why we’ve backed laws at the federal level to update the rules that protect your data stored in the cloud.