Demand For Records By North Carolina Department Of Revenue Unconstitutional
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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NEW YORK – Requests by the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR) for detailed information about Amazon.com customers are unconstitutional because they violate Internet users' rights to free speech, anonymity and privacy, according to a complaint filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and ACLU of Washington. The ACLU, on behalf of several Amazon.com customers, intervened in an existing lawsuit brought by Amazon to stop NCDOR from collecting personally identifiable information that could be linked to their specific purchases on Amazon.
"The Constitution does not permit government agencies to conduct such sweeping collections of our personal and private information," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "Disclosing the purchase records of thousands of Amazon customers would violate their constitutional rights to read and purchase the lawful materials of their choice, free from government intrusion."
The ACLU filed the case on behalf of six anonymous North Carolina residents (Does 1-6) and Cecil Bothwell, an elected public official, who do not think the government should be able to find out the personal, private information their purchasing records reveal. The plaintiffs include:
According to the lawsuit filed by Amazon in April in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, NCDOR issued a request to Amazon for the purchase records since August 2003 of customers with a North Carolina shipping address as part of a tax audit of Amazon. Amazon has already provided 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 that could be linked back to the individual purchases, including names and addresses, but NCDOR has refused to agree that it is not entitled to such information.
"The ACLU is not taking issue with the Department's authority to collect taxes on these purchases, but there is no legitimate reason why government officials need to know which North Carolina residents are reading which books or purchasing which specific brands of products," said Katy Parker, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. "We had hoped the Department would narrow the scope of its requests in order to protect privacy rights, and we are surprised and disappointed that it has become necessary for us to take legal action in order to safeguard consumer's rights."
The ACLU in May sent a letter to North Carolina Secretary of Revenue Kenneth Lay, informing him that the ACLU would take legal action if NCDOR persisted in its demand for constitutionally-protected information.
In addition to Fine and Parker, attorneys on the case are Mariko Hirose of the ACLU, Sarah Dunne of the ACLU of Washington and cooperating attorney Venkat Balasubramani of the Focal PLLC law firm.
The ACLU's complaint can be found online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech-technology-and-liberty/amazoncom-llc-v-kenneth-r-lay-intervenors-complaint