CNet reports on a lawsuit by Amazon against North Carolina concerning the privacy of the online retailer’s customer data:
North Carolina’s tax collectors said Wednesday that they never demanded personal information such as book titles from Amazon.com, which filed a federal lawsuit against the state this week seeking to keep that information confidential.
“Amazon’s complaint is misleading in alleging the department has required detailed information revealing personal consumer preferences, such as book titles,” North Carolina Secretary of Revenue, Kenneth Lay, said in a statement.
But CNET has obtained correspondence from the Department of Revenue that calls North Carolina’s claim into question.
In a letter to Amazon dated December 1, 2009, Romey McCoy, the Department of Revenue’s audit manager, asked for “all information” relating to nearly 50 million purchases that customers in that state had made between 2003 and 2010. McCoy’s letter did not exempt the titles of books or Blu-Ray movies, and did not address the privacy implications of the request.
Amazon subsequently turned over limited, anonymous information: the amount of the purchase, the seller, and the postal code it was sent to.
McCoy replied in a second letter on March 19, 2010 saying Amazon had until this Monday to divulge the full records of each transaction or North Carolina “will” take legal action. […]
The second letter reiterated the request for “all information” on each purchase, and said Amazon “omitted” the billing name and address, the shipping name and address, and the “product/item code or description.” It also asked for a “detail[ed] description” of each item shipped and “any other” information about the transaction. […]
In general, purchases of books, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and other media enjoy special privacy protections. In a 2002 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protects “an individual’s fundamental right to purchase books anonymously, free from governmental interference.” The justices tossed out a subpoena from police to the Tattered Cover Bookstore asking for information about what books a certain customer had purchased.