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Amazon Defeats Dept of Justice Request for Customer Records

I’ve been critical of the Amazon’s intention to spy on its Kindle customers, but it is nice to hear that whatever information it is gathering, it will try to keep it private. An investigation was undertaken by the federal government of Robert B. D’Angelo, culminating in a grand jury indictment against him for not accurately reporting the revenue from the sales of books and other merchandise on Amazon.

The Department of Justice wanted to obtain the customer records originally from 24,000 customers but then narrowed it to 120 individuals who purchased used books via Amazon in the past four years. According to the Order (pdf link), “[t]he government does not suspect Amazon or D'Angelo's customers of any wrongdoing, nor does it consider them victims of D'Angelo.” In June, Judge Stephen Crocker refused to allow the requested access to the customer records. The ruling was unsealed yesterday.

Crocker wrote, in his order, “The subpoena is troubling because it permits the government to peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their prior knowledge or permission. . . . it is an unsettling and un-American scenario to envision federal agents nosing through the reading lists of law-abiding citizens while hunting for evidence against somebody else.”

“Quite apart from any book buyer's personal fear of federal apparatchiks or black helicopters is the more commonly shared notion that living in the land of the free means that it's none of the government's business what books people are reading.”

“Fiery rhetoric quickly would follow and the nuances of the subpoena (as actually written and served)
would be lost as the cyberdebate roiled itself to a furious boil. One might ask whether this court should concern itself with blogger outrage disproportionate to the government's actual demand of Amazon. The logical answer is yes, it should: well-founded or not, rumors of an Orwellian federal criminal investigation into the reading habits of Amazon's customers could frighten countless potential customers into canceling planned online book purchases, now and perhaps forever.”

Via Ars Technica and Teleread.org.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

2 Comments

  1. Libby
    Nov 29, 2007 @ 12:21:22

    I read this report on MSNBC a few days ago. But if you read that report, it states that NONE of the customers’ names were shared by Amazon; only their records.

    “We didn’t care about the content of what anybody read. We just wanted to know what these business transactions were,” prosecutor Vaudreuil said. “These were simply business records we were seeking to prove the case of fraud and tax crimes against Mr. D’Angelo.”

    I don’t think the government should investigate what books I buy or what my reading habits are (and really, what’s the point?), but if this guy is evading taxes, laundering money, committing fraud, and there is evidence that can prove that he’s bilking the system…fine. Get the records. But don’t share the names of the buyers.

    ReplyReply

  2. Robin
    Nov 29, 2007 @ 12:42:25

    Ah, gotta love the Patriot Act.

    ReplyReply

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