ACLU Allowed Into Lawsuit Over North Carolina's Demands To Hand Over Amazon Purchase History

from the privacy-anyone? dept

Back in March, we noted that the state of North Carolina was demanding all sorts of info from Amazon about what everyone located in the state was purchasing. It was actually scary enough to find out that Amazon was already providing "the date and total price of each transaction, the city, county and ZIP code to which each item was shipped and Amazon's standard product code for each item." Even at that point, that information seems like it could lead to serious privacy violations, but North Carolina wanted more. It demanded that Amazon also hand over names and addresses for every purchase as well -- a clear and blatant privacy no-no. Amazon began fighting this and, in June, the ACLU asked to jump into the case as well, representing some Amazon customers who live in North Carolina, and who believed that their voices should be heard as well.

Thankfully, those voices will be heard. Michael Scott points us to the news that the court has allowed the ACLU to intervene in the case, noting that the Amazon customers the ACLU represents have both 1st and 14th Amendment rights at stake, and that Amazon's interests in the case could diverge from its customers. This is a good first step -- but now hopefully the court correctly recognizes how far beyond reasonable North Carolina's request really is. Meanwhile, if you live in North Carolina, what is your government doing, to demand such personal information?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Danny, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 5:51am

    Meanwhile, if you live in North Carolina, what is your government doing, to demand such personal information?

    The government here is desparate to come up with revenue by any means necessary. I would bet more than anything that this is an attempt to collect taxes and fees on the items that NC residents buy from Amazon.

    I've been sorta following this (but not as closely as I should) and I really hope Amazon don't pull a "F U, NC." and decide to stop selling to NC residents (hasn't Amazon already done that to some other state already?).

    This isn't some scheme for Big Brother to look at our purchases (although I can understand the fear of that). Its just basic run of mill government money grubbing.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 6:12am

      Re:

      Agreed. The problem is one of precedents. While the govt. of NC may not be trying to monitor purchase histories for any purpose more nefarious than collecting taxes, this is a door opener for other state and federal govt. requests to monitor purchases....

       

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      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 10:07am

      Re:

      Also agree.

      Like many other states, NC is trying to make up big holes in the budget. Charlotte/Mecklenberg has already had to lay off 500+ teachers, cut the budget for the libraries by about half, and same for parks and recreation and other services.

      However, instead of making intelligent decisions, they've decided to over reach and make a short sighted money grab without fully understanding the implications of the amount of data they are asking for.

       

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        Danny, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 11:19am

        Re: Re:

        The library thing really bothers me.

        Over on the coast (I live not too far from the Outer Banks) there is this travelling Book Mobile that drove around about 4 counties allowing people who didn't have regular access to libraries (namely the elderly) to check out books. Yeah at the end of this month that service is being shut down after running for several decades.

         

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    Dementia (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 6:13am

    What they actually did was cut off affiliates, not customers. However, would you like to guess what state that happened in? http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090626/1439075376.shtml

     

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    Bill, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 6:34am

    Sigh

    This is not really new for the state of NC, it seems that no matter who is voted into office they should not even be managing a broken toilet.

     

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    John Doe, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 6:45am

    Nothing new for NC

    NC has a lot of furniture manufacturers with outlets not far from the VA border. A lot of Virginians drive down, pick out furniture and have it shipped tax free to their home in VA. NC claimed that this was not the equivalent of mail order, probably rightfully so, and started sending tax bills to the purchasers of furniture. I don't know for sure how they figured out who bought furniture to tax them, but they did it.

     

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      JTO (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 7:35am

      Re: Nothing new for NC

      Creative of NC, but certainly not legal. There is a mountain of case law that protects this exact sort of transaction as interstate commerce. Unfortunately for NC, there is no penalty for a VA resident to simply refuse to pay. They don't want it to go to court, so they won't even file a claim.

       

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      ChimpBush McHitlerBurton, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 10:55am

      Re: Nothing new for NC

      No, not rightfully so.

      It's not whether you are ordering a product via "mail order" but which state the product is meant for and will be used. NC has no right to collect sales tax for a product that will be used in another state regardless of how the customer came to obtain that product, either via phone order, mail order, internet order, or ordering in person and having it shipped.

      The sales tax is supposed to be paid to the state in which the product will eventually be used. But that's another story.

      CBMHB

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 7:18am

    Instead of taxes those states should reach out to the public and transfer the responsibilities they no longer are able to sustain.

    What are the people, disable or something?

     

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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 7:18am

    A gift

    Hypothetical: I live in, say Kentucky, and I order a book on Amazon.com and have it shipped to my cousin in NC as a gift.

    Just because an item was shipped to a NC address doesn't mean it was purchased in NC. In fact, if I did buy from Amazon (not one of the many, many sellers using their services) wouldn't I technically only need to pay tax to the state in which Amazon's business is established.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 10:42am

      Re: A gift

      In my state of residence taxes are due at point of delivery not point of sale. So technically it would be NC that is owed taxes in your example assuming NC laws are the same as Alabama. Except of course Alabama made special laws for big ticket items like cars and boats. If I go out of state of out of my county or city to buy one of those I am taxed for state, county and city taxes when I rgister that vehicle.

       

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    barry, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 7:26am

    NC & Privacy

    As a NC resident... it's clear... or demoshit run state need more $$... they believe it's theirs first and we should only get left-overs. If you have a new corrupt way to waste money ... let us know... we're running out of new ideas.

     

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    Zac Morris (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 8:14am

    Personal Property Tax

    NC levies a Personal Property Tax. This used to cover everything from computers to Autos.

    Now it is just levied against big ticket items like Autos, Boats, RVs, etc.; and this is on top of usage fees for these items.

    NC residents are also supposed to list all Internet purchases on their yearly tax return forms; so I'm sure this information is being used to target audits of those people that never list these purchases.

    As a member of the ACLU I'm glad they are trying to expose this practice for the money grab that it is.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 9:35am

    it isnt a money grab, way to change it from what it is, people are getting around paying the legal taxes they owe, just because you purchased it over the internet doesnt exempt you from state taxes

     

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      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 10:31am

      Re:

      "it isnt a money grab, way to change it from what it is, people are getting around paying the legal taxes they owe, just because you purchased it over the internet doesnt exempt you from state taxes"

      There is a case to be made that collecting taxes on out-of-state purchases are against the Due Process and Commerce clauses of the Constitution. Whether it is called a sales tax or use tax doesn't disguise what it really does.

      I'm not against taxes - in fact I think taxes should be generally higher and various loopholes closed. Taxes being levied unfairly is the problem, and a much higher percentage of the total tax burden paid by the poor and middle class comes as a result of these kinds of taxes.

      Don't take my word for it. Here's a recent article on Minnesota's various tax burdens.

      http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2010/08/06/20311/minnesotas_overall_tax_burden_is_increa singly_regressive

       

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        Danny, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 11:24am

        Re: Re:

        Taxes being levied unfairly is the problem...
        Yes. I'm not questioning whether or not the taxes should be collected I'm displeased over how the NC gov. wants to find out who owes what.

        Its the difference between the IRS trying to find out your real income by either looking up your SSN and tracing your assets or breaking into your house to appraise your personal belongings.

         

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      ray, Jan 19th, 2012 @ 6:44pm

      Re:

      Actually, yes it does. What NC is doing is wrong and they have no right to tax intrenet purchases.

       

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    Brad Eleven, Aug 17th, 2010 @ 11:10am

    mail orders were never taxed

    ... but apparently states think they can tax internet purchases. IMHO there's no difference.

     

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    Horatio (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 11:14am

    Open internet

    Amazon should boycott North Carolina then set back and wait for consumers to demand that their politicians stop trying to squeeze every blood sucking penny out of it's populace. If the state needs money that badly then it should just legalize and tax pot instead.There would be no real victims then.

     

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    Horatio (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 11:39am

    Sorry I digressed

    The real problem is that I don't want Amazon to reveal to the state what books, films, etc. I'm buying or shopping for. It's a paradox that a state that is supposedly so conservative finds it so easy to violate it's citizens constitutional rights to privacy. Totalitarianism sometimes occurs among even the best of well meaning folks I guess.

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 2:21pm

    VAT

    Wow, I am so glad that we just have VAT (Value Added Tax) as a national sales tax. Paid at point of sale, it's applied to everyone equally for anything it covers. None of this legalised mess that you have over there. Ok, so it's 17.5% (rising to 20% in January) but...

    Oh yes, prices also MUST include the cost including sales tax, so no nasty surprises like I've had when visiting the US.

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 2:23pm

    VAT

    Wow, I am so glad that we just have VAT (Value Added Tax) as a national sales tax. Paid at point of sale, it's applied to everyone equally for anything it covers. None of this legalised mess that you have over there. Ok, so it's 17.5% (rising to 20% in January) but...

    Oh yes, prices also MUST include the cost including sales tax, so no nasty surprises like I've had when visiting the US.

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 2:46pm

    VAT

    Wow, I am so glad that we just have VAT (Value Added Tax) as a national sales tax. Paid at point of sale, it's applied to everyone equally for anything it covers. None of this legalised mess that you have over there. Ok, so it's 17.5% (rising to 20% in January) but...

    Oh yes, prices also MUST include the cost including sales tax, so no nasty surprises like I've had when visiting the US.

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 2:47pm

    VAT

    Wow, I am so glad that we just have VAT (Value Added Tax) as a national sales tax. Paid at point of sale, it's applied to everyone equally for anything it covers. None of this legalised mess that you have over there. Ok, so it's 17.5% (rising to 20% in January) but...

    Oh yes, prices also MUST include the cost including sales tax, so no nasty surprises like I've had when visiting the US.

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 17th, 2010 @ 2:48pm

    Damn

    Sorry, stupid computer didn't show me it had posted. Sorry for the multipost.

    Mike, how about something to allow us to edit/delete posts?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 4:56am

    its legal tax money you owe, cry more
    you goto the next state over and buy your car, cause you don't pay the state sales tax, and come home and register it, guess what the first thing is you owe?? that's right, the tax to this state, doesn't matter where you bought it

    goto the local bookstore, buy a book, you pay the state tax,
    goto the internet bookstore, buy the same book, you STILL owe the same state tax, just the internet store doesn't collect it and send it to the state, it becomes your job

    It is not a money grab or finding NEW ways to get money from you, its an existing system

    amazon and other online retailers should change the shopping cart to charge you the tax based on the state you select during check out

     

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    Doug..., Aug 18th, 2010 @ 5:58am

    Purpose of tax

    If by "money grab" you mean outright thievery, then I agree.

    Presumably the purpose/justification for collecting taxes on any particular purchase is to pay for the infrastructure built and maintained by the states for the commerce to take place. The brick and mortar Borders store on the corner uses a lot more infrastructure to stay in business than is part of its direct overhead. Borders' customers pay for that through taxes. What infrastructure is Amazon using in NC that isn't paid for through shipping costs?

    NC is run by a bunch of inept liberals who believe that, if they look hard enough, there is always someone else who can pay for their handouts.

     

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