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ACLU fights N.C. quest for Amazon customer data

State agency wants to collect taxes for online purchases on Amazon, but the advocate group says the customer information request violates consumer privacy rights.

A request by the North Carolina Department of Revenue for personally identifiable customer data that could be linked to purchases is unconstitutional because it violates Internet users' rights to privacy and free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday.

The ACLU, on behalf of seven Amazon customers, has intervened in a lawsuit that Amazon filed in April over an information request from the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR) for all the purchase records of customers with a North Carolina shipping address since August 2003, as part of a tax audit.

Amazon has provided the agency with product codes that identify the items purchased, as well as seller name and the cities, counties, and ZIP codes to which the items were shipped, according to the ACLU filing. When Amazon withheld personally identifiable user information that could be linked back to the individual purchases, including names and addresses, the state agency threatened to sue.

"We're frustrated we couldn't resolve this," said Katy Parker, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. "The DOR has admitted they don't need all the information requested, but they refuse to limit the scope of the request...There is no legitimate reason why government officials need to know which North Carolina residents are reading which books."

The NCDOR could not be reached for comment on Wednesday afternoon.