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Judge Backs Amazon, Raps Feds Over Book Records 113

Posted by kdawson
from the can't-hide-your-prying-eyes dept.
netbuzz alerts us to a ruling in federal court that has just been made public. US Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker told the Feds to lay off Amazon in denying prosecutors' requests for records of who bought what books at the online retailer. The judge wrote, "The [subpoena's] chilling effect on expressive e-commerce would frost keyboards across America." Prosecutors had demanded 24,000 transaction records from Amazon, all in service of convicting a city official on charges of fraud and tax evasion. In the end they found customer information on the official's PC, where they should have looked in the first place.
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Judge Backs Amazon, Raps Feds Over Book Records

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  • by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @05:25PM (#21497411) Homepage
    Judge Backs Amazon, Raps Feds

    When I read that, I added an extra "e" in there, but I guess that's just wishful thinking.
  • Personally, I'd be very concerned if people were buying books like these [amazon.com]. I would certainly defend the government's right to weed out such subversives.
    • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @05:32PM (#21497527)
      If that was meant as a joke, then reality is already one step ahead of you. [digg.com]
      • by myspys (204685) *
        as Digg notes:

        "Warning: The Content in this Article May be InaccurateReaders have reported that this story contains information that may not be accurate."
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by MightyYar (622222)
        As usual, the situation is not as black and white as that documentary tries to make it seem. Prior to anti-psychotic drugs (in the 70s), we just locked up psychotics. Carter let 'em all out, because when they took their drugs, they were not a danger to themselves or others.

        Problem is, they don't take their drugs. So you have a lot of bat-nuts homeless guys out wandering around without their medication.

        So what do you do? Put 'em back in the institution even though they don't pose a threat, or make their meds
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Wrong! Carter didnt let them all out. Reagan cut all the fed budget for mental instituions and that forced all them out onto the streets.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            You are both wrong (although the first poster is closer), the courts ordered that they be released. The rulings were made in the early to mid 70's. The courts ruled that it was unconstitutional to institutionalize people against their will unless they were a demonstrable danger to society (even if the individual was incapable of taking care of themselves). By the late 70's/early 80's, when the outcome of these rulings became apparent (that most of those individuals who had been institutionalized couldn't ta
            • by MightyYar (622222)
              Ah, thanks for the correction. I was pretty young for Carter, so my memory ain't so good I guess. I thought it had been done at the executive level instead of the judicial.

              But who did it wasn't really my point, the quandary of what to do with crazy people was :)

              Wow, I actually got made a foe for that post I think - and from a guy that I almost always agree with! (Scudsucker)
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by sumdumass (711423)
            lol,,, Nope. The ACLU went to bat for some crazy woman that committed suicide about 9 months after release from an asylum. They took her case to the US supreme court and it was ordered that if they don't pose a threat to themselves or others, then they cannot be detained. This happened in the 60s and the mid 70s. This caused an evaluation of if everyone nutcase locked up and it ended up dumping a shitload of people on the street. The problem had something to do with detaining people that were perfectly fine
          • Wrong! Carter didn't let them all out. Reagan cut all the fed budget for mental institutions and that forced all them out onto the streets.

            AC gets it exactly right, and I'll add that Reagan 'practiced', as Governor, on California, first. Market Street 'screamers' anyone? I knew a majority of my fellow Californians were out iof their trees, but, at the time, never dreamed that a huge majority of Americans were also bona fide mental midgets... and it's been all downhill, with only brief mirages of 'hope',

        • by znerk (1162519)
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came [wikipedia.org]... -- Nuf Sed.
          • by MightyYar (622222)
            I don't see how that refutes my point that the documentary snippet was taken out of context.
            • by znerk (1162519)
              It doesn't. It points out that you are suggesting that certain individuals be locked away, for their own good, and that of society. I felt the poem was relevant. Sorry you didn't get it.
              • by MightyYar (622222)
                You can't be suggesting that unmedicated psychotics pose no danger to society or themselves. I'm not talking about people with "dangerous ideas", which would have made your link relevant. I'm talking about people who are actually physically dangerous.

                And besides, you have it backwards. The government USED to just throw them all into asylums, never to be heard or seen again. Now days they sleep on the street, in part because they refuse to take the same medication that got them let out of the asylum. Yay fee
                • by znerk (1162519)

                  For the record, anyone who decides that they are "defending the constitution against the federal government" is probably bat-nuts.
                  This is what I was responding to, and I think that your attitude/mentality is part of the problem.
                  • by MightyYar (622222)
                    Sure, when you take it completely out of context like that it sounds like a bad idea. If you are evaluating a potentially psychotic individual and they spew out a crazed lunatic manifesto, it damn well should set off some warning flags. There is nothing wrong with the FBI pointing this out in their training material. Have a chat with some of the more colorful homeless guys in San Francisco or read the Unibomber's manifesto and you'll see the kind of crazed rambling that I am talking about.

                    It's not just the
                    • by znerk (1162519)
                      I find it interesting that in the (distant) past, voices in people's heads were considered to be the voice of God, and now the people are considered to be less than sane. Joan of Arc, etc.

                      You said nothing about a "crazed lunatic manifesto"... you said

                      For the record, anyone who decides that they are "defending the constitution against the federal government" is probably bat-nuts.

                      So, are you saying that anyone who thinks poorly of our current administration's policies, and perhaps feels they are unconstitutional, is a danger to society?

                      I'm not attacking the FBI's training manual, here, I'm asking you a direct question. Do you truly bel

                    • by MightyYar (622222)

                      Joan of Arc, etc.

                      Barking mad, no doubt. It's amazing what a superstitious populous will do for a crazy person.

                      So, are you saying that anyone who thinks poorly of our current administration's policies, and perhaps feels they are unconstitutional, is a danger to society?

                      Not at all, and I see where I communicated my point poorly. I was using "defending" in a way more than purely verbal sense.

                      A sane, rational, balanced person sees an injustice and this inspires them to become an activist. They could be a lawyer, and activist writer, hell they might just work the phones for the DNC. If you sit down with this person, they will be more than happy to talk your ear off about their pet c

    • Don't forget books that discuss even more outrageous material, such as this one [amazon.com].
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      I'd be a LOT more concerned if they were buying this:

      http://www.amazon.com/StarBird-David-Greenley/dp/0738812439/ref=sr_1_22/002-3699275-9111221?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176468104&sr=8-22 [amazon.com]

      (Here's a sample chapter, in case you enjoy pain: http://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/book_excerpt.asp?bookid=553 [xlibris.com] )
    • Hmmm... and why do you think government is always right?
      I remember an incident i read in Presidential Anectodes: Thomas Jefferson was being once raked over coals in press over some remarks he had made. All kinds of insults were being thrusted at him which were lies.
      An European minister who came to meet jefferson was surprised at these attacks and asked Jefferson why did he not arrest the seditious editor and supress these papers.
      Jefferson replied: "This is why this is US of America and not europe. These peo
  • by explosivejared (1186049) <hagan@jared.gmail@com> on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @05:28PM (#21497461)
    The withdrawal came after a judge ruled the customers have a First Amendment right to keep their reading habits from the government.

    We're talking about America right? That happened in America? You're kidding me! The same America with warrantless wiretaps and everything! I don't believe you!

    Wait... what's that... fascism does not rule in America like some people on the internet say. You've lost me now. Crackpot!!
    • Does this mean I no longer have to worry about reading at the airports [slashdot.org]?
    • by QCompson (675963) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @06:37PM (#21498271)

      Wait... what's that... fascism does not rule in America like some people on the internet say. You've lost me now. Crackpot!!
      Har Har! See, it's funny because everyone thinks the American government is headed in the wrong direction and people are worried about the loss of civil liberties. However, this one time the Feds weren't able to steamroll through the justice system with excuses about national security, state secrets, and executive power. So therefore all those naysayers were wrong! Everything's a-ok! Don't worry about warrantless wiretapping, telecom immunity, or national security letters. Funny ha-ha!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by garcia (6573)
        Blah blah blah. The single "activist judge" who didn't kowtow in this particular instance -- woofuckinghoo for checks and balances.

        I'm sorry but this one particular example does, in no way, bring us back on an even playing field prior to the Bush Administration's far-reaching and scary-as-fuck violations of privacy all in the name of the ever so popular terrorism.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stanislav_J (947290)
        It generally doesn't happen overnight, or all at once. A certain paperhanger and his minions didn't transform Germany in one fell swoop -- it was done gradually, eroding the rights and privacies of the people little by little, step by step, always under the guise of it being for their own good or protection from bad guys. I'm not necessarily making a direct comparison here.....I'm just saying....
        • by sumdumass (711423)
          Actually, the vast majority of what happened in germany did happen over night. I forget the name of the bill, but Hitler convinced the lawmakers to give him power to make laws without them and he did. It was basically done in a few weeks then Hitler took control.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          It generally doesn't happen overnight, or all at once. A certain paperhanger and his minions didn't transform Germany in one fell swoop -- it was done gradually, eroding the rights and privacies of the people little by little, step by step, always under the guise of it being for their own good or protection from bad guys. I'm not necessarily making a direct comparison here.....I'm just saying....

          Actually, it was pretty close to overnight. The Weimar Republic was never very well supported by the German people. Hitler was appointed Chancellor on January 30, 1933, and his government suspended civil rights on February 28, 1933. The Nazi's got 37% of the vote in November 1932 and those who didn't know what Hitler intended weren't paying attention. The only reason Hindenburg agreed to appoint Hitler Chancellor was because he thought that Hitler could be controlled.

      • by gangien (151940)
        So? these things have been happening since the US was conceived. We've managed to survive thus far. Not that we shouldn't worry, but all this crap about how the world is ending and such and we're a police state and bush is a dictator is all mostly bullshit. Yes you can draw parallels, but you can draw parallels between pretty much any 2 things, and we can still vote and still make a difference, so not all is lost.
      • It was a joke so don't make to much out of it. Warrantless wiretapping and extraordinary rendition are pretty nasty and unconstitutional. The ones responsible should be put in prison. There's some pretty messed up stuff, but as far as I can remember you still have the right to free travel, the right to call the government fascist if you so choose, the right to ply whatever trade you choose, vote for whoever you choose etc. Do me a favor and get some perspective! Take a look at South Asia and then you'll und
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jdjbuffalo (318589)
      Just because there is a problem with some parts of the government doesn't mean that the whole government and everyone in it is corrupt.

      However, the longer you let corruption fester without confronting it, the more systemic it gets and eventually it will spread to every corner of the government. I don't think we're there yet in this country but unfortunately we are well on our way.

      "Evil triumphs when good men do nothing" - Unknown, but often attributed to Edmund Burke
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      Hey, and least Americans (and American companies) care and fight back against governmental abuses like this... take a look at the UK, or mainland Europe, if you want to see a legendary amount of kow-towing to government demands. (You can't really blame China when they never had rights in the first place.)
  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@optRABB ... minus herbivore> on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @05:39PM (#21497611) Journal

    [U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen] Crocker -- who unsealed documents detailing the showdown against prosecutors' wishes -- said he believed prosecutors were seeking the information for a legitimate purpose. But he said First Amendment concerns were justified and outweighed the subpoena's law enforcement purpose.

    "The subpoena is troubling because it permits the government to peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their knowledge or permission," Crocker wrote. "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."

    So, not everybody in the American legal system is providing a rubber stamp for Federal nosiness. I can't believe the Feds actually thought this was a viable thing -- perhaps they've been swayed by all the success with warrant-less wiretapping and private snooping. I think this may be representative of a desire by the lower courts to put the breaks on rampant violations of American civil rights. At least, one can hope.

    • Having seen the grand jury process up close, who says it was the Feds driving the request for the info?

      Jury = Citizens

    • by fm6 (162816)
      If we did elect this guy, he'd be screwed up by the same system that screws up most other elected officials. U.S. Federal Judges are able to do politically unpopular things precisely because they're not elected. Once appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, they serve for life, and cannot be removed except by impeachment. Depending on your POV, that's either judicial tyranny or a useful safeguard against mob rule. Though given the number of rabid right-wing ideologues that the Republicans hav
  • precedence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by theMerovingian (722983) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @05:41PM (#21497649) Journal

    This sounds factually similar to the Robert Bork video rental disclosure issue. See here. [epic.org]

  • Woops (Score:2, Interesting)

    Another case of the powers at be sitting in a room full of mirrors and muttering "Woops".
  • by e9th (652576)
    This wasn't a situation where, say, a child is in imminent danger and they need the information now.

    It's simply a case of the cops' unwillingness to do some good old-fashioned police work. Good for you, Judge Crocker.
    • You make it sound (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Foerstner (931398)
      ...as if "a child is in imminent danger" is sufficient cause to abrogate the First Amendment.
      • by e9th (652576)
        I do not. What part of

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
        do you think I would like to see abrogated, even for the life of a child?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by lgw (121541)
          One way to infringe on my freedom of the press is to outright ban the sale of my book. Another is to have government agents standing in popular bookstores making a show of taking down the names of anyone who buys my book. When the government forces Amazon to give over customer records it infringes the first amendment through this chilling effect, whether the goverment is doing it because a childs life is in immanent danger (Think Of The Children!!!!!one!!) or not.
          • by e9th (652576)

            ...government agents standing in popular bookstores making a show of taking down the names of anyone who buys my book. When the government forces Amazon to give over customer records it infringes the first amendment through this chilling effect

            This is where you're losing me. What would a purchaser of your book have to be afraid of? Gitmo? Waterboarding? Termination with extreme prejudice? Tax audit?

            Do you know any victims of Chilling Effect Syndrome?

            I would be ashamed of myself if I didn't buy your book b

            • by lgw (121541)
              Perhaps you'd also have no problems with a government agent watching which way you vote?

              Spend some time with people from a country where the people are legitimately scared of their government. You'll understand why it's so important to prevent this "chilling effect", and why judges and constitutional scolars take it seriously.

              If the government can audit what you read, it becomes unsafe to read or publish books critical of the government, even if it's technically legal.
  • That's right! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iknownuttin (1099999) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @05:49PM (#21497737)
    FTFA: "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."

    And:"If the government had been more diligent in looking for workarounds instead of baring its teeth when Amazon balked, it's probable that this entire First Amendment showdown could have been avoided," he wrote

    Damn straight it is un-American! I just wish the agents and presecutors involved would get reprimanded! Or better yet, fired for incompetence.

    • by fm6 (162816)
      Actually, the justice department did fire a whole bunch of prosecutors for "incompetence". Unfortunately, their definition of "incompetence" was "not helping keep the Republican party in power."
    • Damn straight it is un-American! I just wish the agents and presecutors involved would get reprimanded! Or better yet, fired for incompetence.


      Or better yet, hanged for treason...
  • by urcreepyneighbor (1171755) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @06:53PM (#21498443)

    The judge wrote, "The [subpoena's] chilling effect on expressive e-commerce would frost keyboards across America."
    "Chilling effect"? "Frost keyboards"?

    Oh, man, I want this guy if I'm ever in trouble with the law.
  • New /. groupthink (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BooRolla (824295)
    Seriously. We all should be liking Amazon about now (at least for a little bit). They stood up to the Feds even when they really didn't have to beyond the inconvenience.

    We can get back to hating them for the single click patent after Christ^H^H^H^H the holidays.

    (Interesting note: captcha was 'dogma')
    • Forget amazon (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OrangeTide (124937)
      I think I just like that Judge.
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      yeah, and DRM on books is just a dystopian nightmare because the Kindle is just so cool..

    • by tm2b (42473)
      Indeed.

      The /. party line is that because of arcane intellectual property issues unique to their industry, we're supposed to hate Amazon and love Google. But on matters like this where the rubber truly hits the road for setting society-wide precedent, it's not Google who's avoiding being evil.
  • If "they" give us victories like this to make us more likely to think things are not so bad or getting better while they continue to rape our rights over things they actually give a rat's ass about.
  • The judge wrote, "The [subpoena's] chilling effect on expressive e-commerce would frost keyboards across America."
    With the current fed's inaction against global climate change, this effect will be short-lived at best.
  • Oh good (Score:3, Funny)

    by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday November 27, 2007 @11:07PM (#21500587) Homepage Journal
    Now they'll never know about my purchase of "WMDs for Dummies" and "Terrorism for Beginners".
  • I am a non-us citizen, sometimes shopping at amazon.com (cause it cheaper then most of the other amazons). I might be wrong, but I see no LEGAL or MORAL justification that U.S. government should be able to look into my reading habits.

    Now I know, the world is corrupt, and very few things can be legally justified let alone morally. However I'd like to say that find this appalling and disgusting. If the government is so eager to know everything about me, I'd be happy send my stool sample to the white house,

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