Protecting the privacy of consumers who buy or rent videocassettes and video-disks is on the minds of New York state legislators and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Legislation that would prohibit videostores from disclosing information that could identify consumers without their consent has been filed in both houses of the state Legislature.

According to Sen. Serphin R. Maltese, sponsor of the bill, “there is a constitutional right to privacy and this should be protected.” Anthony J. Genovesi sponsored the measure in the Assembly.

The legislation was introduced at the request of the Attorney General, who indicated that there was no relationship between this measure and the flak surrounding a Blockbuster Video exec’s recent remarks speculating that the company could sell its customer records to direct marketers. Blockbuster since disavowed that notion.

Retail establishments commonly keep detailed computerized records of the names and addresses of individual customers along with the titles of movies they have rented or purchased, per Maltese.

The senator pointed to two highly publicized incidents in which video records were made public: Judge Robert Bork’s taste in movies was disclosed by a Washington weekly newspaper when he was the subject of Congressional hearings for a Supreme Court judgeship; and a list of movies rented by Oliver North and his family was obtained and made public.

The bill also would require video consumer records to be destroyed no later than one year from the date the information is no longer necessary. Violators would be liable to the consumer for damages and could be subject to an action brought by the New York Attorney General for injunctive relief and a fine of up to $1,000.

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