Delaware Approves Online Reader Privacy Law

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On January 1, 2016, a new law will go into effect in Delaware that requires all “book service providers” with online sales exceeding two percent of their gross sales to protect the privacy of customer information. The law applies to both Delaware booksellers and book service providers with customers in Delaware.

The Delaware Online Privacy and Protection Act will not affect most independent booksellers because it applies only to companies that sell a lot of books online. Unlike reader privacy laws in California and New Jersey, it does not apply to sales in bricks-and-mortar stores. It also does not impose a penalty for the unauthorized release of customer information. The California law authorizes civil fines of up to $500 for violations. (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the penalty provision of his state’s bill.)

The American Booksellers Association has been a leader in the fight to protect reader privacy, defending bookstores that have received sweeping subpoenas and search warrants that could have a chilling effect on the sale of books. ABA is also a sponsor of the Campaign for Reader Privacy, which seeks to restore protections for reader privacy that were eliminated by the USA Patriot Act.

However, ABA has opposed the California and New Jersey reader privacy laws as well as a similar bill in New York that has not become law because of concerns that the laws do not treat independent booksellers fairly. In letters to state officials, ABA and regional bookseller associations have supported the important goal of increasing protections for reader privacy but have objected strongly to making independent booksellers liable for mistakenly releasing customer information. Because they are often small businesses, independent bookstores are far more vulnerable to police pressure than Internet and chain bookstores, whose lawyers routinely deal with all police inquiries.

While the Delaware law does not impose a penalty, it does create the possibility that a company could be the target of a civil suit for breach of privacy. Oren Teicher, ABA’s chief executive officer, wrote a letter urging Gov. Jack Markell to veto the bill because it could apply to independent bookstores that sell a lot of books on the Internet.

ABFE urges all independent bookstores to take several steps to protect reader privacy:

  • Adopt a privacy policy that makes it clear to bookstore staff, the public, and the police that the store will not consider turning over customer information until it receives a properly executed subpoena.
  • Train staff to protect the privacy of all customer information and to refer all requests for information to supervisors or the store’s owners.
  • Call ABFE to be directed to legal resources before giving the police any customer information.

ABFE has also created a variety of resources to help booksellers protect reader privacy:

Booksellers who have any questions after reviewing this material should contact me, Chris Finan, at (914) 406-7576, or via e-mail.