California Booksellers Could Face Fines Under Privacy Law

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

California booksellers could face civil fines of up to $500 if they improperly disclose customer information under a state law on reader privacy that goes into effect on January 1.  In an alert issued on Wednesday, November 30, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) notified booksellers that the law prohibits them from releasing customer information to the police, a government agency, or any third party in the absence of a court order.  Customers can sue bookstores that disclose their information improperly. The ABFFE alert includes advice for complying with the law, including adopting a privacy policy, training staff, and calling ABFFE whenever a request for customer information is received.

“There is no reason for booksellers to worry about being sued as long as they are taking some basic steps to protect reader privacy,” ABFFE President Chris Finan said.

Although ABFFE has been a leader in the fight to protect customer privacy, it did not endorse the California law when it was introduced because of concerns that it does not treat independent booksellers fairly.  Because independent stores are often smaller businesses staffed by young or inexperienced booksellers, they are more vulnerable to police pressure and more likely to mistakenly release information than Internet and corporate booksellers whose lawyers routinely deal with all police inquiries. The American Booksellers Association and the Northern California and Southern California independent booksellers associations negotiated with the sponsors of the legislation in an effort to improve it.  When these talks failed, they wrote to members of the Assembly and the Senate seeking changes.  This effort, too, was unsuccessful. 

The ABFFE alert is posted on the ABFFE website. It is also being e-mailed to California booksellers and will be included in ABA’s December and January red box mailings.