Tuesday, October 26, 2010

North Carolina Tax Dept. Wanted All Names, Purchases, & Titles Of N.C. Amazon Purchasers; Judge Says no way!

"Some clever lawyering turned a routine Internet tax battle into a First Amendment case, as a federal judge in Washington rebuffed North Carolina’s efforts to get its hands on Amazon.com customer data.

Amazon’s lawyers, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the North Carolina Department of Revenue threatened the constitutional rights of Amazon customers when it requested the names of North Carolina customers on top of detailed purchase information it had already obtained.

In a 26-page ruling , U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman found the North Carolina revenooers’ request was too broad and subjected Amazon customers to unconstitutional scrutiny.

As the declarations from the Intervenors make clear, the fear of disclosure of their reading, watching, and listening habits poses an imminent threat of harm and chill to the exercise of First Amendment rights."

Forbes - Federal Judge Quashes N.C. Search For Amazon Customer Data

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"“The Amazon customers we represent — indeed, anyone who’s purchased books, movies or any other legal thing online — should be able to make purchases freely without the government looking over their shoulder. We hope the court agrees.”

— The court did agree with the ACLU in this case, when U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman in Washington state ruled yesterday that Amazon.com does not have to turn over the names and addresses of North Carolina residents who made purchases on the website from 2003 to 2010, as requested by that state’s use-tax collectors. Use taxes are collected on, among other things, purchases made online from merchants with no presence in the consumer’s state. CNet reports that Amazon had already provided North Carolina officials with purchases made by ZIP code, but that state officials wanted names and purchases linked together, a request that Pechman said “runs afoul of the First Amendment.” The court did not grant the broader injunction the ACLU, which had intervened in this case, had sought, which would have barred Amazon.com from revealing customer data without a subpoena."

Good Morning Silicon Valley - Quoted: Amazon wins round in privacy fight

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"North Carolina's Department of Revenue violated the First Amendment in asking Amazon for names of customers who bought books, a Washington judge ruled on Monday.

The ruling is a win for free speech advocates, but the ACLU may continue to pursue the issue because the ruling may not prevent similar requests for broad customer data in the future.

The lawsuit has its roots in a dispute over whether Amazon must pay sales tax on goods shipped to North Carolina residents. As part of its investigations into the issue, North Carolina asked Amazon to send it "all information for all sales" to customers in the state.

Amazon complied by sending specific information, including book titles, about products shipped to North Carolina. The trouble started when North Carolina then asked for the names and addresses of customers. Amazon subsequently asked the court to rule that sending customer names to North Carolina violates the customers' First Amendment rights because the state would then be able to match people's names with specific book titles."

PC World - Court Rules Amazon Doesn't Have to Turn Over Customer Names

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Once that sort of data is in one set of hands, how long does it take for other agencies to request it?

How long before Amazon purchases are tied into "terrorist" searches and profiling?

How long before such scrutiny wanders into thought police land? Think of the various school districts in the U.S. that have elected boards that censor library and textbook picks.

If you don't believe me, I can provide examples of preemptive enquiries on all variety of activities by police and security agencies all over the world.

As a guy who gets extra searched going through airports because he looks kind of Lebanese in person, especially when I have a tan, I can tell you that profiling and jumping to conclusions is rampant among officialdom. For the record, I am of Ukrainian ethnic descent and my Hutzul genotype has strong central Asian characteristics - my family has been in Canada for over 100 years. But I still get busted for looking like a "foreign" terrorist...

Just sayin'

Look to where information requests can end up sometime in the future. Because by the time you realise it, your freedom will be curtailed - and people really will be watching you.

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Picture credit: computing.co.uk - Data privacy and the surveillance state

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