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Monday, April 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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MAD TALK

Photo ID proposal sparks First Amendment controversy

Verveer: 'The current paper-based system is a joke.'
Verveer: 'The current paper-based system is a joke.'
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Sandi Torkildson, owner of A Room of One's Own bookstore, wants people to take their First Amendment rights seriously.

That's why she's opposing changes to a city ordinance governing the sale of used CDs, DVDs and books on tape to pawn shops and secondhand dealers.

The city currently requires stores to see a photo ID of anyone selling these goods and record the seller's name, address and basic descriptive information, such as height and race. The records must be kept for a year. (Books are exempt from this process on First Amendment grounds.)

Ald. Mike Verveer would like to update this process to require venders to electronically store the information. The intent of the law is to combat burglars and thieves, who pilfer these items. "The current paper-based system is a joke," Verveer says. "It's very seldom used and tedious to go through piles of paperwork."

Catching - and preventing - thieves would be much more likely if police had a database to search for stolen goods. "The epidemic of heroin and opium addictions is driving much of the activity at these businesses," Verveer says. "A large portion of many of these items are clearly stolen."

Though print books would still be exempt under an electronic system, Torkildson is concerned. She doesn't have a problem with keeping a database for electronics, such as cameras, phones, DVD players or TVs. But she says that books, music, movies and other media enjoy special protection under the First Amendment.

While Torkildson is not crazy about the current paper system, it's preferable to compiling an electronic database on what people read or watch. The new system, she says, will produce a national database that could be abused.

"People have to understand what this means," she says. "[The database] won't necessarily be used for the purpose it was collected."

Torkildson argues that even now the law infringes on First Amendment rights inconsistently. For instance, blind people, who rely on books on tape, have their reading material subjected to higher scrutiny than people who can see.

The Common Council is set to take up Verveer's proposed changes at its Oct. 4 meeting. Verveer says he understands Torkildson's concerns and hopes to find a compromise.

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