A federal judge has blocked North Carolina's attempt to force online retailer Amazon.com to turn over the names of its customers to state tax officials.
The U.S. District judge in Seattle, where Amazon.com's headquarters is based, said Monday that turning over customer names to government authorities violates a key First Amendment tenet.
"The First Amendment protects a buyer from having the expressive content of her purchase of books, music, and audiovisual materials disclosed to the government," Judge Marsha Pechman wrote. "The fear of government tracking and censoring one's reading, listening, and viewing choices chills the exercise of First Amendment rights."
The ruling is a victory for a half-dozen anonymous North Carolina residents who bought products from Amazon.com customers and asked the court in Seattle to protect their identities. The residents, four of whom live in the Triangle, said they bought materials about sex, alcoholism and other controversial subjects. They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
A spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Revenue said state attorneys are reviewing the agency's options, including an appeal. The revenue department for more than a year has been seeking customer information from Amazon.com so that it could levy state sales tax on the retailer's customers.
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