NC request for Amazon user records unconstitutional: ACLU

By admin
Thursday, May 20, 2010 11:34 EDT
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Saving money on entertainment purchases is something most Americans can get behind. But not all agree that buying stuff on the Internet should be tax and duty free. However, many people in the “anti-Tea Party movement” who champion paying taxes to help government work draw the line if privacy is potentially breached.

“The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina today sent a letter to North Carolina Secretary of Revenue Kenneth Lay reiterating concern over a recent request by the state Department of Revenue (NCDOR) for the private records of Amazon.com customers,” an ACLU press release sent to RAW STORY notes. “The letter informs Lay that the ACLU will take legal action on behalf of North Carolina residents who are Amazon.com customers if NCDOR persists in its demand for their constitutionally protected private information. Specifically, the letter says the ACLU and its clients will intervene in an existing lawsuit brought by Amazon.com to stop NCDOR from collecting individually identifiable information that could be linked to specific purchases made on Amazon.com.”

According to the lawsuit filed by Amazon in the Western District of Washington in April, NCDOR issued a request to Amazon for the purchase records since August 2003 of customers with a North Carolina shipping address in order to impose taxes on the purchases. Amazon has apparently already provided the NCDOR with product codes that reveal the exact items purchased – including books on the subjects of mental health, alcoholism and LGBT issues. Amazon has withheld individually identifiable user information, including names and addresses that could be linked back to the individual purchases, but asserts that the NCDOR continues to insist that such information be disclosed. In its letter today, the ACLU asserted that such disclosure would violate the constitutional rights of thousands of North Carolina consumers to read and purchase the lawful materials of their choice, free from government intrusion.

The following can be attributed to Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project:

“The Constitution guarantees Americans the right to read and buy the lawful materials of their choice without the government keeping tabs on the details of their purchases. Amazon was right to stand up for the rights of its customers and to refuse to turn over their personal information to the North Carolina Department of Revenue.”

The following can be attributed to Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina:

“The ACLU is not taking issue with the Department’s authority to collect taxes on the value of these purchases, but there is no legitimate reason why government officials need to know which North Carolina residents are reading what books or purchasing which specific brands of products. We hope to be able to work out a satisfactory resolution to this matter so that consumers in North Carolina can rest assured that their privacy is protected.”

Last week, Newsweek’s Emily James noted, “Nationally, the research shows, the collective loss from untaxed e-commerce is about $9 billion a year. It’s a hefty savings on books, CDs, and electronics—but it could come at the expense of hospitals, parks, and bridges.”

(Photo credit: Craig Toocheck)

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