Recently, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the Reader Privacy Act (SB 602: HTML, PDF). Set to take effect on Jan. 1, the law requires government agencies to obtain a court order before they can access the customer records of online bookstores. Now, MediaPost reports that there could be privacy questions affecting bloggers’ online postings:
Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University, says California lawmakers might have imposed some new requirements on individual bloggers who aren’t booksellers in the traditional sense.
That’s because the statute’s wording appears to leave room for interpretation about exactly who is covered by the law. The measure prohibits any “commercial entity” offering a book service from turning over information about readers without a court order. Goldman says in a blog post that the language appears broad enough to include individuals who operate ad-supported blogs.
“Consider that many blogs are, in fact, paginated (at least in the URL),” Goldman writes. “Perhaps many bloggers aren’t ‘commercial entities,’ although I’m sure plaintiff lawyers will argue that a blog with AdSense and some Amazon affiliate links would satisfy that standard,” he adds.
The result, says Goldman, is that bloggers could find themselves in violation of the law if they disclose information about commenters or readers without a court order. “The ambiguity of blogs as ‘book services’ means it’s possible California has imposed a new statutory obligation on bloggers,” Goldman says. “This obligation effectively puts bloggers’ houses on the line if they don’t hire lawyers to properly navigate through the statute when the government or private litigants ask for information.”
Not all Internet law experts agree with Goldman’s interpretation. […]
[EFF legal director Cindy Cohn] says that the Reader Privacy Act wasn’t intended to encompass bloggers. “I get that there is some ambiguity about what is a book,” Cohn says. But, she adds, “I don’t think blogs are paginated. That’s part of the reason we used that term.”
She says that although some blogs include page numbers in the URLs, courts will not necessarily consider that to be pagination because readers typically navigate blogs by scrolling, not by seeking out a specific page number.