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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Amazon Tells State’s Snoops to Butt Out

SEATTLE (CN) - Amazon.com is fighting a request by North Carolina tax authorities for records of "virtually every North Carolina resident who has purchased anything from Amazon since 2003," claiming disclosure would violate customers' privacy rights on a "massive scale."

Amazon particularly objects that the information would "chill the exercise of customers' expressive choices" in books, music and other media.

The North Carolina Department of Revenue wants Amazon to turn over the "name and address of virtually every North Carolina resident who has purchased anything from Amazon since 2003, along with record of what each customer purchased and how much they paid," according to the federal complaint.

Amazon says it complied with the state's audit by giving "voluminous information about its sales to North Carolina."

"Amazon, without violating its customers' privacy, fully cooperated by furnishing data requested by the DOR to conduct its tax analysis," the complaint states. "But the DOR has no business seeking to uncover the identity of Amazon's customers who purchased expressive content, which makes up the majority of the nearly 50 million products sold to North Carolina residents during the audit period, let alone associating customers' names and addresses with specific books, music, and video content that they have purchased during the past seven years.

"The DOR's actions threaten to chill the exercise of customers' expressive choices and to cause Amazon customers not to purchase certain books, music, movies or other expressive materials from Amazon that they might otherwise purchase if they did not fear disclosure of those choices to the government," the complaint states.

Amazon adds that North Carolina customers have purchased "potentially sensitive or personal books" such as "Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families," "He Had It Coming: How to Outsmart Your Husband and Win Your Divorce," "Living With Alcoholism: Your Guide To Dealing With Alcohol Abuse And Addiction While Getting The Alcoholism Treatment You Need," "What to Do When You Can't Get Pregnant: The Complete Guide to All the Technologies for Couples Facing Fertility Problems" and "Outing Yourself: How to Come Out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends, and Coworkers."

Amazon says: "Public figures who have purchased expressive works and other items from Amazon have the additional concern that their purchase histories will be scrutinized and used for political purposes, appear in the press, or otherwise be made public."

Amazon seeks declaration that the information request violates the First Amendment and the Washington Constitution. The complaint was filed by Steven Caplow with Davis Wright Tremaine.

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