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Video Rental Privacy Bill Introduced

October 23, 1987|DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writer

A Riverside congressman wants to ensure that Judge Robert H. Bork and every other American may rent films for viewing in the privacy of their own homes without fear that their video rental records might be revealed to the public.

Rep. Al McCandless (R-Calif.) introduced the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1987 in the House on Wednesday, proposing that video rental customers be allowed to sue for $10,000 if rental store employees disclose rental records without the customer's permission.

The bill, which has received bipartisan backing from both Bork's supporters and detractors, is the direct result of a Washington weekly newspaper's revelation last month that Bork and his wife had rented 146 titles from a Washington video outlet during the previous 18 months.

The list contained no X-rated titles and only a few R-rated films. Bork's tastes seemed to tend toward British cloak-and-dagger films, classic comedies and James Bond. But the publication of his personal catalogue of film selections brought an immediate outcry from senators on both sides of the Judiciary Committee, which was then in the process of debating his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way decried the invasion of Bork's privacy.

Customers of some of the larger video rental outlets in Southern California have been protected by company policies long before the Bork hearings, according to spokesmen for Tower Records, Sam Goody's and other chains.

"We have a couple of stores on Sunset (Boulevard) and over in Sherman Oaks where high-profile people are customers," said John Thrasher, product manager for Sacramento-based Tower Records. Tower has 40 outlets nationwide that offer videocassettes, including one in Washington near the store that revealed Bork's record.

"As a result of our customers' inquiries, we instituted a policy about six or seven months ago," Thrasher said. "We don't give out lists."

Similarly, the Minneapolis-based Sam Goody chain (previously Licorice Pizza) has an informal policy that also predates the Bork confirmation hearings. Bruce Jesse, vice president for advertising, said that Sam Goody's 34 video rental outlets in Southern California do not normally turn over rental records upon request.

Spokesmen for Torrance-based Wherehouse Entertainment, which bills itself as the largest video rental chain in the nation with more than 160 locations, had no comment on the McCandless bill. A corporate spokeswoman said she was not aware of a company policy on customer rental list privacy.

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