Lists that identify the titles of books, music, and movies purchased by Amazon.com customers are protected by Free Speech rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, a federal judge has ruled.
The landmark ruling by US District Judge Marsha J. Pechman of Seattle, was a sharp rebuke of North Carolina's DOR, or Department of Revenue, which in December ordered Amazon to turn over sales data for all customers with a shipping address within the
state who made purchases from 2003 to 2010. Amazon, which says it has conducted almost 50 million transactions with North Carolina residents during that time, filed suit in April arguing that request threatened anyone who may have bought controversial or
Judge Pechman agreed: The First Amendment protects a buyer from having the expressive content of her purchase of books, music, and audiovisual materials disclosed to the government, she wrote in a ruling: 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.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which joined the case on behalf of several Amazon customers, hailed the decision: This ruling is a victory for privacy and free speech on the internet, a legal director for the organization said in a statement.
The court has emphasized what other courts have found before – that government officials cannot watch over our shoulders to see what we are buying and reading.