The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that the California Reader Privacy Act has been signed into law. The act “will establish privacy protections for book purchases [including e-book purchases] similar to long-established privacy laws for library records.”
While the EFF trumpets this as a victory for reader privacy, Death and Taxes Magazine points out that it is still superseded at the federal level by the Patriot Act. Given that elsewhere the EFF reports a US attorney demanded the book purchase records of 24,000 customers from Amazon, this is troubling. It seems doubtful the EFF will have much luck counteracting that at the federal level.
Also, as ReadWriteWeb points out, the law only applies to books and e-books, leaving other materials and services unprotected. It is also only effective in California, leaving the other 49 states without even that level of protection. Still, hopefully it will serve as a model for other legislation to add additional protections elsewhere.
Yawn, yawn! At times the EFF reminds me of adolescents angry at their moms for telling them to clean up their rooms. They pick their causes poorly. I could care less who knows what books I’m reading. I often review them on Amazon for all the world to see. And libraries? How utterly silly. Anyone who stands behind me in the checkout line can tell what books I’m checking out.
The real issues facing our society have nothing to do with library checkouts or book purchases. They have to do with the enormous growth in the regulatory state, which tells us what we can and cannot do. That’s far more serious than someone merely finding out what books we’re reading. To give one example, a friend who wanted to remodel his dentist office found himself caught in an array of contradictory regulations. Obeying one meant violating another. That not only means hassle and expense for him, it means we pay more when we visit a dentist.
Paralleling that are laws that criminalize being a victim. Get graffiti painted on your fence in Seattle and the city could care less about catching those who did it. All the city cares about is fining you if you don’t paint over that graffiti quickly enough. That’s punishing the victim so the public has less chance of picking up on the fact that nothing is being done about crime. Lots of bureaucracy, not much in the way of practical accomplishment. And when a down economy threatens that bureaucracy, their solution isn’t to eliminate those burdensome rules. It’s to close wading pools for kids on hot summer days.
About 300 A.D. this growth in regulation was one of the signs that Rome was headed for history’s dustbin, particularly under the reign of Diocletian (284-305 AD). Productive people were taxed to support a vast bureaucracy intent on regulating almost everything. One result was that the wealthy pulled out of the economy rather than allow themselves to be bled dry by taxes. And tired of being stomped on, the average Roman citizen had little reason to defend the empire. leaving it open to the barbaric invasions that eventually toppled it.