The California Supreme Court decided recently that when a retailer accepts credit card payment for goods at the point of sale, the retailer is generally forbidden even to request the customer to provide his or her ZIP code.  The Court’s decision interprets a specific California statute, the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971, which prohibits retailers from requesting “personal identification information” when accepting credit card payment, with exceptions including if needed for a purpose related to the transaction, such as for shipping, delivery, servicing, or installation (California Civil Code section 1747.08).  The Court counter-intuitively likens a customer’s ZIP code (often shared with tens of thousands of other people) with more specifically personal information such as a home address or telephone number, in part on the basis that a ZIP code can be used with the person’s name to reverse engineer by Internet search a fair guess at their actual personal address.  In any event, while the Supreme Court’s decision seems informed by privacy-like concerns, it is set forth solely as a specific analysis and limited statutory interpretation that under the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971, “personal identification information, as that term is used in section 1747.08, includes a [credit] card holder’s ZIP code”.  (Pineda v. Williams-Sonoma Stores, Inc., California Supreme Court No. 178241, February 10, 2011.)

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