Back in March, we wrote about the surprising effort by the North Carolina government to force Amazon to hand over a list of details on every purchase made by anyone in the state
. Amazon already
provides a ton of information to the government. In fact, I think many would argue it provides too much
It routinely provides the Revenue Department with "voluminous information" about its sales to North Carolina addresses as part of routine audits of the company's compliance with sales and use tax laws. The information includes 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, which allows officials to see the description of every product purchased.
Already that seems like a privacy violation. However, to state officials, that's not enough
info. They want actual names and addresses of who bought what and have threatened Amazon if it does not comply. The ACLU has now stepped in to defend Amazon
, noting that North Carolina's demands from Amazon are unconstitutional violations of users free speech, anonymity and privacy rights. Specifically, the ACLU has filed a case against the state on behalf of six anonymous North Carolina residents who don't believe the government should have a right to look at what they purchased:
- Jane Doe 1, who purchased books on self-help and how to get a divorce and a restraining order after her former spouse developed substance abuse problems and threatened to kill her;
- Jane Doe 2, the general counsel of a global corporation, who has purchased books and movies with overt political leanings as well as books that may reveal her religious beliefs;
- Jane Doe 3, who has purchased books on mental health in order to better understand the conditions afflicting her former spouse, including "Stop Walking On Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone Your Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder," as well as books about cancer, including "Cancer: 50 Essential Things To Do: Revised and Updated," by Greg Anderson. She has also purchased books on atheism. She is not public about her personal beliefs and doesn't want others to find out;
- Jane Doe 4, who has received several politically-charged items through Amazon from her parents, including "Obama Zombies: How The Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation," by Jason Mattera. Jane Doe 4 is a law school student who would like to one day work in the public sector, and she is concerned that her career prospects may be impaired if her personal and political beliefs are disclosed;
- Jane Doe 5, the parent of Jane Doe 4, who is a Florida resident, but whose information has been caught up in NCDOR's request. She does not want the government to know which books she has decided to purchase for her child;
- Jane Doe 6, whose purchases include books with sensitive and potentially controversial subject matters; and
- Cecil Bothwell, an elected city official, author and proprietor of a publishing house who has both purchased and sold potentially controversial books on Amazon. He is an atheist, which his political opponents seized on following his election because of a provision in the North Carolina Constitution that purports to prohibit anyone who "shall deny the being of Almighty God" from holding public office. He is joining the lawsuit on behalf of himself and his readers and customers, whose information has also been sought by NCDOR.
It's really amazing that North Carolina has not backed down on this yet, but I guess that a bunch of states these days have decided that tax revenue (what this case is really about) is more important than citizens' rights.