Feds Rejected In Attempt To Get Access To Customer Records At Amazon

from the that-whole-right-to-privacy-thing dept

An interesting lawsuit came to light yesterday, as it was disclosed that the federal government was denied in an attempt to obtain customer records from Amazon.com, citing First Amendment and privacy rights of individuals not to have their reading habits scoured by government officials. This wasn't a situation where the government really was interested in anyone's reading habits. It involved a case against a Madison, Wisconsin official who was accused of selling books via Amazon out of his city office and was accused of tax evasion and fraud. The federal prosecutors wanted access to Amazon's customer info in order to find witnesses who had purchased books from the officials -- but Amazon was worried about the rights to privacy of those individuals, and the judge agreed. It's also worth noting that the feds tried to keep this particular case silent, but the judge unsealed the records, noting: "The subpoena is troubling because it permits the government to peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their knowledge or permission. It is an unsettling and un-American scenario to envision federal agents nosing through the reading lists of law-abiding citizens while hunting for evidence against somebody else." Following this, the feds dropped their request and claimed they got enough info from looking at the officials computer (after which the judge scolded the feds for not taking that route earlier).

While you can see the feds' position on this one (they didn't care about the content, they were just looking for people who had been customers to build their case), Amazon and the judge were right that this represented a slippery slope concerning what sorts of private info Amazon would be expected to reveal in other cases. News.com has an interesting interview with David Zapolsky, Amazon.com's vice president for litigation, where he discusses what happened here and how often the company gets these types of requests. Apparently, Amazon gets similar subpoena's "roughly once a quarter," and reviews them carefully to make sure that no privacy rights are violating in handing over any information. Contrast this to how most of the telcos responded to gov't spying requests, and it shows why it's silly to grant immunity to the telcos. Just because a gov't official demands information, it does not mean that companies should simply roll over and hand over that info. It's nice to see that Amazon recognizes that basic premise, even as the telcos try to weasel out of having to admit they probably broke the law in simply giving in to gov't requests.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 4:42pm

    I love Amazon...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Uhlich Ballzack, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 5:00pm

    fuck the gov't & fuck bush

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Max Powers, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 6:33pm

    Stand up for our rights.

    We need all companies to stand up for the rights of it's customers to stop this crap before it gets support by some wacko judge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Shalkar, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 6:49pm


    A judge that knows what he's doing! You just don't see that any more these days... Three cheers for this judge!


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 10:00pm

    Amazon is also the company that said they would never sell their user data base. But then they got into a financial crunch and did just that.

    Good on Amazon this time. But I wouldn't hold my breath thinking Amazon was any kind of knight in shinning armor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    communism, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 10:20pm

    Say Hello To

    enough said

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 11:11pm


    sometimes I love them, when they seem to know what they are doing like this one.

    Other times, I really wish it would be considered bad standing for a Judge say in Marshall Texas to be a complete asshat so he could be removed from the bench.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    B, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 11:26pm


    "fuck the gov't & fuck bush"

    Yes, because I'm sure he has any clue about what's going on.

    Go spew your socialism trash elsewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 6:40am

    Re: Mr. Ballzack

    Have you done it yet? You better get crackin', there are a lot of government officials. I am sure a few of them would enjoy it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    AC, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 8:18am

    Let me ask a Question, Would it harm anyone if Amazon released information such as Jane Doe A, Jane Doe B, John Doe A, John Doe B all purchased materials from said Offical. I guess it would be 'anonymous proof, but would that hold up in any court as solid evidence? No personal information was released, therefore no privacy made public. Or would that fall under unsubstanciated evidence?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Facisim, Dec 1st, 2007 @ 2:45pm

    Say Hello To

    If it's a choice between the two, I'd rather have neither.

    After all, what's communistic about making sure that people have their first amendment rights?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Hide this ad »
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Chat
Hide this ad »
Recent Stories
Advertisement - Amazon Prime Music
Hide this ad »


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.