Invasion of Privacy, or Protection of Property?
Wisconsin‘s Madison City Council has just passed legislation that regulates the sale of used textbooks by identifying who is selling what.
The ordinance, which will take effect in mid-July, requires students to provide valid photo identification when selling a used textbook back to a bookstore. Bookstores are then required to fill out a form identifying the book’s author, title, ISBN and the person selling the book. If the seller can not provide valid photo I.D., he or she will have to provide a social security number and the bookstore is to log a detailed physical description of the seller. These records are to be kept on file for six months, or be submitted to the Madison Police Department.
The purpose of the ordinance is to reduce the incidence of textbook thefts and re-sale for quick cash. However, there is concern that keeping records of what books people own and sell is a violation of their First Amendment rights. In addition, it is difficult to narrow down what exactly qualifies as a textbook. Classes about sensitive topics like human sexuality and women’s studies may require “textbooks” that are just regular books. This means there will be a record kept of who at one point owned and sold back those sensitive-topic books. A requirement to keep record of such sensitive information makes community members like Sandra Torkildson, owner of A Room of One’s Own Feminist Bookstore in Madison, uncomfortable.
“For over 30 years as a bookseller, I have never kept records of what my customers buy here,” said Torkildson. “Our store sells many books on sensitive social and political issues. Since the Patriot Act went into effect, we have been even more careful to make sure that no records link a customer’s name to any book we sell or purchase.”
Stacy Harbaugh of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin expressed concern that the new ordinance may breach privacy and expose students to identity theft.
“If all this information is stored together, are bookkeepers really prepared to keep a lock and key on all this?” Harbaugh said.
Alderman Eli Judge, District 8, was the co-sponsor of the ordinance. He believes the ordinance will be a strong deterrent to on-campus textbook theft.
“With class schedules and course book lists already recorded by the university, these logs will not store any information that could be construed as private,” said Judge. “During my campaign, I spent hours speaking to students at the doors about issues that mattered to them, and the frequency of crime came up again and again. This ordinance is a small but important step toward making our campus a safer place.”
Judge, Eli. “A First Step for Student Safety.” Eli Judge Madison’s 8th District Alder. 01 MAY 2007. Eli Judge. http://elijudge.org/2007/05/a_first_step_for_student_safet.html
Mueller, Beth. “Textbook ID plan passes.” The Badger Herald 02 MAY 2007. http://badgerherald.com/news/2007/05/02/textbook_id_plan_pas.php
Schoepp, Brittany. “Madison City Council OK’s rules for used books.” Wisconsin State Journal 02 MAY 2007. http://www.madison.com/wsj/home/local/index.php?ntid=131957&ntpid=3
Schwartz, Nomi. “When Selling Used Textbooks Is a Privacy Issue.” Bookselling This Week. 09 MAY 2007. American Booksellers Association. http://news.bookweb.org/freeexpression/5268.html