Even as Congress prepares to re-consider some controversial sections of the Patriot Act, the California State Senate unanimously approved a bill today that would preclude state law enforcement from using one of the investigative tools now at issue.
Many Patriot Act provisions have been made permanent after being passed in October 2001 to extend law enforcement’s reach following the 9/11 attacks. At issue now are provisions that authorize roving wiretaps on surveillance targets; provisions that let the government access “any tangible items,” such as library and bookstore records, as a part of surveillance; and a “lone wolf” provision that allows surveillance of those in the United States without citizenship, a green card or political asylum who are not connected to an identified terrorist group.
But SB 602, by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would require government agencies to seek a warrant in order to access consumers’ reading records from bookstores and online retailers, bringing those protections in line with those already afforded by state law to library records. Today’s Senate vote sends the bill to the Assembly for consideration.
“I am very pleased that both Democrats and Republicans agree that current law is completely inadequate when it comes to protecting one’s privacy for book purchases, especially for online shopping and electronic books,” Yee – who also is a San Francisco mayoral candidate – said in a news release today. “Individuals should be free to buy books without fear of government intrusion and witch hunts. If law enforcement has reason to suspect wrongdoing, they can obtain a warrant for such information.”
Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin acknowledged that the bill “states all government agencies, but obviously federal law could supersede and allow federal agencies access if so approved.” Among those supporting the bill are the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, Consumer Federation of California, and Californians Aware.
Many bookstores already collect information about readers and their purchases, and digital book services can collect even more detailed information including which books are browsed, how long each page is viewed, and even digital notes made in the margins. Supporters say it’s vital that state law be adapted to the digital age, considering that electronic or digital books now outsell paperbacks on Amazon.com and more than 18 million e-readers are expected to be sold in 2012.
“California should be a leader in ensuring that upgraded technology does not mean downgraded privacy,” said Valerie Small Navarro, a legislative advocate with the ACLU’s California affiliates. “We should be able to read about anything from politics, to religion to health without worrying that the government might be looking over our shoulder.”