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Privacy for Your Guilty Viewing Pleasures

This post goes under the category of “good to know.” It’s probably not something most of us are concerned about, but it’s still comforting to know that the law protects the privacy of our video preferences.

The federal Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (18 USC §2710) prohibits the disclosure of a person’s videotape rental and sale records. Given the age of the Act, its language hasn’t caught up with technology. Indeed, it prohibits disclosure of rental records by a “videotape service provider” of “prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials.” 18 USC §2710(a)(4). 

Although no cases have yet determined whether the Act applies to DVD rentals and digital downloads, why wouldn’t it? The plaintiff in Doe v Netflix, Inc. (.pdf) thinks it does. In that case, the plaintiffs filed an action against Netflix to prevent the company from making “disclosures of personal identifying information including, but not limited to, users’ video renting history and rating habits.”

In addition to federal protection, California also offers privacy for your video choices. Most directly, CC §1799.3(a) provides that a business in California that provides video recording sales or rentals may not disclose any personal information or the contents of any records, including sales or rental information prepared or maintained by the business, to anyone other than the customer without his or her written consent. There are, however, exceptions for disclosure made under a court order or in response to discovery in a civil action, under a search warrant or to a law enforcement agency (when required for investigating criminal activity), or to a taxing agency. It also doesn’t apply when names and addresses are disclosed for commercial purposes. CC §1799.3(b).

So, there you have it. Your viewing pleasures will remain secret.

For many more interesting tidbits in the world of Internet and electronic privacy, check out CEB’s Privacy Compliance and Litigation in California, chap 4.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

6 replies on “Privacy for Your Guilty Viewing Pleasures”

I don’t think so. The only exceptions for disclosure of your video choices are those made under a court order, in response to discovery, under a search warrant, or to a law enforcement or taxing agency. For most folks, I would think those exceptions are unlikely to come into play.

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