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Federal Judge: Purchases from Amazon.com free from Gov't Oversight

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New case just came down and I pulled this summar off the WSJ Law blog. :

The First Amendment protects the right to buy whatever you want on Amazon.com, free from the prying eyes of the government.

So ruled a Seattle federal judge yesterday in a dispute between Amazon.com and North Carolina tax collectors who want the online retailer to disclose buyer data.

The North Carolina Revenue Department has said that it wants to determine whether Amazon customers were paying sales taxes.

But in a suit this year Amazon contended that it could harm customers who bought controversial books, music or videos if it had to disclose the customers’ names and purchases.

“Citizens are entitled to receive information and ideas through books, films, and other expressive materials anonymously,” federal judge Marsha Pechman ruled. “The fear of government tracking and censoring one’s reading, listening, and viewing choices chills the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which intervened on behalf of Amazon, said in a statement that the ruling “emphatically reemphasized what other courts have found before – that government entities cannot watch over our shoulders to see what we are buying and reading.”

A North Carolina Revenue Department spokeswoman declined to comment to the AP. North Carolina requires residents to pay taxes on online purchases if buying the same item in a physical store would result in a sales tax, the AP reports. But out-of-state retailers can’t be forced to collect North Carolina’s tax if they have no physical presence in the state. At issue in the suit is whether Amazon had a North Carolina presence.

North Carolina’s tax agency, according to AP, has said that either Amazon or its customers owe North Carolina $50 million in sales and use taxes on Internet purchases.


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