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ACLU Demands North Carolina Stop Requesting Amazon Purchase Info

The demand for personal information is a violation of North Carolinians' First Amendment right to purchase and read lawful materials of their choice.
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May 20, 2010

Last month, we told you about’s lawsuit against the State of North Carolina’s Department of Revenue (DOR) for demanding the private records of its customers. The Revenue Department has demanded that Amazon hand over individually identifiable information that could be linked to specific purchases made on the site. They ostensibly requested this information to ensure that Amazon is in full compliance with the state’s sales and use tax laws.

If they just want the information for tax purposes, you would think the monetary value of the purchases would suffice. Amazon went further to cooperate by handing over the titles of the books or movies its customers purchased, but withheld customer information that would link the purchases to specific customers.

And that’s what the DOR wants. Why does the DOR need to know who bought what?

Today, we sent a letter to North Carolina Secretary of Revenue Kenneth Lay expressing our concern about these unreasonable demands. In a nutshell, if the Revenue Department doesn’t back away from its demand for the personal information of Amazon customers living in North Carolina, we will join Amazon’s lawsuit to stop the DOR from collecting individually identifiable information that could link specific purchases made on Amazon.

The ACLU’s problem with this demand for personal information is that it’s a violation of North Carolinians’ First Amendment right to purchase and read lawful materials of their choice. You should be able to make purchases freely without the government looking over your shoulder. As Catherine Crump blogged last month:

Our right to read what we choose, free from government intrusion, is too valuable to give up when the government doesn’t have a warrant based on probable cause. Reading in private allows people to explore ideas, even those that may be unpopular, and this kind of freedom is both intrinsically valuable and essential to our democracy, which after all is premised on the idea that untrammeled debate and intellectual exploration leads to good government.

You can help: tell Congress to pass legislation that requires law enforcement to get a warrant before it demands sensitive electronic information, including book records.

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