Federal Court Upholds Amazon Users' Privacy And Free Speech Rights

For Immediate Release


Rachel Myers, ACLU national, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Katy Parker, ACLU of NC Legal Foundation, (919) 834-3466
Doug Honig, ACLU of Washington, (206) 624-2184

Federal Court Upholds Amazon Users' Privacy And Free Speech Rights

Demand For Records By North Carolina Department Of Revenue Unconstitutional

federal judge ruled late Monday that government requests for detailed
information about Amazon.com customers violate Internet users' rights to
free speech, anonymity and privacy. The ruling came in a lawsuit
originally brought by Amazon to stop the North Carolina Department of
Revenue (NCDOR) from collecting personally identifiable information
about customers that could be linked to their specific purchases on
Amazon. The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal
Foundation and ACLU of Washington intervened in the lawsuit on behalf
of several Amazon.com customers whose information was at stake.

Recognizing that government requests for expressive information can have
an unconstitutional chilling effect on constitutionally-protected
behavior, U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman of the Western District
of Washington at Seattle wrote:

"The First Amendment protects a buyer from having the expressive content
of her purchase of books, music, and audiovisual materials disclosed to
the government. Citizens are entitled to receive information and ideas
through books, films, and other expressive materials anonymously. …The
fear of government tracking and censoring one's reading, listening, and
viewing choices chills the exercise of First Amendment rights."

According to the lawsuit filed by Amazon in April, NCDOR issued a
request to Amazon for the purchase records from August 2003 through
February 2010 of customers with a North Carolina shipping address as
part of a tax audit of Amazon. Amazon provided NCDOR with product codes
that reveal the exact items purchased – including books on the subjects
of mental health, alcoholism and LGBT issues – but withheld individually
identifiable user information that could be linked back to the
individual purchases, including names and addresses. NCDOR refused to
agree that it is not entitled to such information, leading to the

The following can be attributed to Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project:

"This ruling is a victory for privacy
and free speech on the Internet. Disclosing the purchase records of
Internet users to the government would violate their constitutional
rights to read and purchase the lawful materials of their choice, free
from government intrusion, and undermine the very basis of American
democracy and our cherished freedoms. With this ruling, the court
emphatically reemphasized what other courts have found before – that
government entities cannot watch over our shoulders to see what we are
buying and reading."

Today's decision is available online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech-technology-and-liberty/amazoncom-llc-v-kenneth-r-lay-order

More information about the case, Amazon.com, LLC v. Kenneth R. Lay, is available online at: www.aclu.org/free-speech-technology-and-liberty/amazoncom-llc-v-kenneth-r-lay


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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