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Amazon wins suit to block N. Carolina's demands for customer information

Amazon has won its First Amendment lawsuit against North Carolina’s tax collectors, refusing the state’s demands for customer names, addresses and other personal data during an audit.

In her finding released on Monday, U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman of the Western District of Washington at Seattle wrote:

"Citizens are entitled to receive information and ideas through books, films, and other expressive materials anonymously. …The fear of government tracking and censoring one's reading, listening, and viewing choices chills the exercise of First Amendment rights."

Civil liberties groups lauded the ruling, saying the demands for the disclosure of personal information from the online retailer violated consumer privacy. North Carolina’s tax authorities made the request during an audit of Amazon’s Internet sales. The state imposes taxes on its residents who buy items online, but out-of-state firms such as Seattle-based Amazon can’t be forced to collect those taxes.

Amazon has said it sold 50 million products to North Carolina residents since 2003, so cooperating with the state could have created a massive database on consumer buying habits.

“With this ruling, the court emphatically reemphasized what other courts have found before – that government entities cannot watch over our shoulders to see what we are buying and reading," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

Previous post of interest:

Amazon sues North Carolina for demanding customer information

By Cecilia Kang  | October 26, 2010; 2:33 PM ET
Categories:  Privacy  
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