Thursday, November 4, 2010

More on North Carolina v. Amazon

Time has an article about North Carolina's attempts to extract more taxes from its citizens that just so happens to violate the First Amendment.
The court case stems from a war over sales taxes between North Carolina and Amazon. The North Carolina tax department says Amazon failed to collect sales taxes on about 50 million transactions with North Carolinians between 2003 and early 2010. As part of a tax audit, North Carolina asked the e-commerce giant to provide, for that time period, "all information for all sales to customers with a North Carolina shipping address."

Amazon partially complied, turning over a lot of records, but it held back data that would allow the state to connect individual customers with the specific items they purchased. North Carolina came back with a demand for more and different data, and Amazon sued in federal court in Washington State, arguing that the state's demands violate the First Amendment and privacy laws. The federal district court rightly ruled that North Carolina's actions violated the First Amendment as well as certain provisions of the Video Privacy Protection Act, the 1988 law that prevents unauthorized disclosure of video-sale records. The court warned that if North Carolina were able to get individualized information about Amazon customers, it would have a chilling effect on their decisions about what to buy.
The ACLU (an organization that frequently irritates me with the cases it chooses to associate itself with) sided with Amazon; this article deals heavily with the first amendment-violations that prompted the organization to enter the fray.

Given that ACLU's defense ultimately revolved around identifying an individual's purchases, what is stopping the state of North Carolina from just requesting a list of North Carolinians and the total dollar amount of their purchases for tax purposes? In my layman's opinion, a pared-down request from the state seems like it'd be far more difficult to defend as a First Amendment violation. But surely Amazon (and perhaps the ACLU) have other defenses against future requests of this nature.

Anyone know?

Another question: does the fact that Republicans have control of the state legislature for the first time since the 19th century have any effect on the state's course in this matter?

No comments: