New Jersey Governor Vetoes Bill Punishing Bookstores

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Following protests by the American Booksellers Association and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed a bill that would have punished bookstores that mistakenly disclose customer information to the police and other third parties. Assembly Bill 1396 authorized fines up to $1,000 for any bookstore that discloses customer information in the absence of a court order.

“We are grateful to Gov. Christie for recognizing the importance of protecting reader privacy without punishing booksellers,” ABA CEO Oren Teicher said.

In an October 6 letter, Teicher and NAIBA Executive Director Eileen Dengler told Christie that it was wrong to penalize a bookseller who mistakenly discloses customer information under pressure from the police. They said independent bookstores were particularly vulnerable because they lack the resources of larger companies that routinely handle police requests through their legal departments. The fact that many employees in independent stores are young and/or inexperienced increases the chances that a mistake will be made.

In a veto message dated November 13, Christie agreed that booksellers should not be responsible when law enforcement improperly seeks customer information. “Booksellers should not be placed in the unenviable position of having to either refuse a law enforcement request for information or pay a penalty,” he said.

Under New Jersey law, a governor may “conditionally” veto a bill, returning it to the legislature with recommended changes that must be accepted before the bill can go into effect. Christie’s changes included the deletion of the section authorizing fines for booksellers who mistakenly disclose information. The changes are now being considered by the legislature.