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Amazon Case: We're In!

Mariko Hirose,
Staff Attorney,
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August 16, 2010

Last Friday, the district court in the Western District of Washington granted the motion to intervene that the ACLU filed on behalf of our clients in the lawsuit (PDF) challenging the North Carolina Department of Revenue’s (DOR) repeated requests for Amazon’s customer records in the course of its tax audit of Amazon. These customer records reveal highly personal and intimate details of people’s lives that DOR does not actually need for its tax audit, including what books people are reading, what films they are watching, and what other private and expressive materials they are purchasing. The First Amendment bars the government from demanding and collecting this information.

The ACLU, ACLU of North Carolina Foundation, and the ACLU of Washington Foundation represent the intervenors, who are individuals whose Amazon purchase history — including books like How to File For Divorce in North Carolina: With Forms; God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist; and Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder — are at risk of being disclosed to DOR because of DOR’s sweeping requests for this information.

In the order on Friday granting the motion to intervene, the district court recognized that our clients have significant First and 14th Amendment rights at stake in this case. The court also recognized that Amazon, which initially filed the case, might not necessarily fully represent our clients’ interests and might not raise the same arguments. This decision allows our clients — who the court also permitted to proceed anonymously in order to protect their privacy — to have their own voices heard in this proceeding as the court determines their rights to privacy and free expression.

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