ACLU backs Amazon in North Carolina privacy dispute

According to an April lawsuit filed by Amazon in Washington state, the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR) requested purchase records for all customers with North Carolina shipping addresses dating back to August 2003 with the intent of taxing the purchases. Last summer North Carolina began taxing online purchases in an attempt to help reduce its budget shortfall.

Amazon responded to the original request by providing NCDOR with the shipping addresses, billing totals and product numbers for all orders sent to North Carolina. The information submitted allowed the state to determine exactly what products, books and movies were purchased and how many, but not the identity of the purchaser.

Now, according to the lawsuit, the state wants detailed user information to determine which individuals owe taxes on the purchased items. But combined with the purchase records already in its possession, that would allow NCDOR to see exactly what its citizens are reading or watching, a violation of their constitutional rights, according to the ACLU.

"The ACLU is not taking issue with the Department's authority to collect taxes on the value of these purchases, but there is no legitimate reason why government officials need to know which North Carolina residents are reading what books or purchasing specific brands of products," Fine said.

An ACLU spokesperson said the organization wants NCDOR to delete the product records it already has in its possession and make a public statement acknowledging it does not need such detailed records in order to levy taxes. The spokesperson said North Carolina has agreed in the past that information on specific items purchased is not necessary in order to collect taxes.