North Carolina Tax Officials Allegedly Seeking Names of All Amazon Customers in North Carolina

From the Complaint in, LLC v. Lay (W.D. Wash., filed yesterday):

25. On December 1, 2009, as part of an audit of Amazon for compliance with state sales and use tax laws, the DOR sent an Information Document Request … to Amazon ….

26. Question 16 of the December Information Request asked, in part, that Amazon provide “all information for all sales to customers with a North Carolina shipping address by month in an electronic format” for all dates between August 1, 2003, and February 28, 2010.

27. … Amazon employees in Seattle provided the DOR with detailed information about millions of purchases made by North Carolina customers during the relevant time period. Specifically, Amazon provided the DOR with responses to all of the data fields specified by the DOR that were reasonably obtainable from Amazon’s records, including: order ID number, seller, ship-to city, county, postal code, the non-taxable amount of the purchase, and tax audit record identification (the “Initial Data”)….

28. Included in the Initial Data was the specific product code for each item purchased, which is known as the Amazon Specific Identification Number, or ASIN. If the DOR searches for any ASIN number on the Amazon website, it can find the item and learn the title and description of each book, DVD, music selection, or other item purchased by the customer.

29. To protect customer privacy, including customer choices of expressive material, Amazon did not provide the DOR with the name, address, phone number, e-mail address or other personally identifiable information of any customer….

31. By letter hand delivered on March 19, 2010, to Amazon in Seattle, Washington (the “March Information Request”), the DOR stated that Amazon’s initial response to Question 16 of the December Information Request omitted the “Bill to Name; Bill to Address (Street, City, State, and Zip); Ship to Name; Ship to Address (Street); Product/item code or description” (the “Customer Data”). The DOR demanded that Amazon provide this information “for examination” on or before April 19, 2010….

39. These and other books, movies, and music [see the complaints for specific examples -EV] could be considered sensitive, personal, controversial or unpopular. Each order of a book, movie, CD or other expressive work potentially reveals an intimate fact about an Amazon customer. Public figures who have purchased expressive works and other items from Amazon have the additional concern that their purchase histories will be scrutinized and used for political purposes, appear in the press, or otherwise be made public. Yet the DOR demands to know the identities and other personal information about Amazon’s customers who have purchased or received these products. Amazon customers, however, have a reasonable expectation that Amazon will maintain their selections in confidence and do not expect the government to obtain a record of their selections of expressive material….

43. Amazon’s compliance with the March Information Request would chill Amazon’s customers’ free speech and expression and could limit Amazon’s ability to sell expressive works to the public….

Amazon respectfully asks this Court for … [a] declaration that, to the extent the March Information Request demands that Amazon disclose its customers’ names, addresses or any other personal information, it violates the First Amendment and 18 U.S.C. § 2710 ….

Thanks to Erick Mead for the pointer.

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