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Amazon Fights For Privacy of Customer Records 272

Posted by kdawson
from the taxing-demands dept.
suraj.sun notes a CNET article on Amazon's lawsuit against North Carolina on the grounds that the state is trying to violate the privacy and First Amendment rights of Amazon's customers. "Amazon.com filed a lawsuit on Monday to fend off a sweeping demand from North Carolina's tax collectors: [for] detailed records including names and addresses of customers and information about exactly what they had purchased. ... North Carolina's Department of Revenue had ordered the online retailer to provide full details on nearly 50 million purchases made by state residents between 2003 and 2010. Because Amazon has no offices or warehouses in North Carolina, it's not required to collect the [state's] 5.75 percent sales tax on shipments, although tax collectors have reminded residents that what's known as a use tax applies on anything 'purchased or received' through the mail." Amazon is arguing that the records of what books, music, and videos its customers bought deserve enhanced protection.
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Amazon Fights For Privacy of Customer Records

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  • by tgd (2822) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:11AM (#31908350)

    Sales tax!? Bah, if you give up schools and paved roads, you can do without it entirely.

    We do!

    • Oooohh!!! (Score:5, Funny)

      by tgd (2822) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:13AM (#31908360)

      I think that's my first first-post in 13 years of Slashdot!

      *wipes away tear*

      (And to you damn kids with mod points who want to mark this off-topic, give an old man a break... Some day you'll be old, too!)

      (Oh, and get off my lawn.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by matt_king (19018)

      I think my state (Massachusetts) tried to sue a tire company in NH for this same info, and eventually lost (could be mistaken, it was a year or two ago)...precedent?

      • by OhPlz (168413) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @09:01AM (#31908784)

        Sullivan Tire. The MA SJC shot down the attempt, so I don't think it's much of a precedent. NH did pay close attention to this, various public officials said they would fight this matter to the end.

        http://salestaxbuzz.org/2009/08/26/live-fee-or-die-vs-taxachusetts-how-story-ends/ [salestaxbuzz.org]

        There was a slight difference. Sullivan actually had some stores in MA. I think MA was trying to use that fact to exert pressure on the chain to supply info on sales that took place in other states.

        Reminds me of way back when MA used to send state police to NH to stake out the parking lots of liquor stores. They'd record MA license plates and radio cops along the border to pull those vehicles over for not paying tax on the alcohol they purchased. NH didn't want to lose the sales, so they sent out our own state troopers to remove the MA police.

        The fun continues. Not too long ago a MA state rep was photographed at a liquor store in NH buying alcohol. The ironic thing was that he had just voted on increasing the liquor tax in MA. No laws broken, but it seemed a bit unethical to many. "Do as I say, not as I do."

        • by Intron (870560)

          The fun continues. Not too long ago a MA state rep was photographed at a liquor store in NH buying alcohol. The ironic thing was that he had just voted on increasing the liquor tax in MA. No laws broken, but it seemed a bit unethical to many. "Do as I say, not as I do."

          No laws broken as long as he paid the 6.25% use tax on his state tax return. MA has the same tax laws as NC in the article. Residents have to voluntarily pay the use tax on "foreign" purchases. You think the state rep was going to do that?

        • If I'm not mistaken, the alcohol tax is relatively new in Mass. (2009.) I do remember Mass. posting state troopers at New Hampshire fireworks stores. They would write down plate numbers and contact troopers on the Mass. side of the border who would pull them over once they got into Mass. It was kind of obnoxious how NH fireworks stores would advertise in Mass. I vaguely remember a large fireworks sign off of I495 a few years ago.

          I think raising the sales tax was definitely a boon to NH retail, though. I kno

        • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @10:04AM (#31909502)

          The key to stopping this kind of boarding hopping is to take a note from the west coast, and make your states bigger.. I mean sure, in vancover, WA, they hop over the river, and buy things in portland tax free, but thats just a small percentage of the population. Now, you guys just gotta have some mergers and aquisitions, and combine some states, so its more than a 20 min drive to the next state. Seriously, the western states have counties bigger than you easterners.. Of course, out west, they tried to do the opposite, and tried to form the State of Jefferson by carving out a piece of northern CA, southern OR, and a bit of Nevada.. (google it) but put it on hold when WW2 started.

          ps. my old county had a land area bigger than most eastern states, and only 4 cops per shift to patrol it... No wonder they are a little more pro-gun out there..

        • by Weezul (52464)

          Awesome story, thanks!

      • by curunir (98273) * on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @02:36PM (#31913810) Homepage Journal

        The states are going after the wrong companies in trying to collect data for assessing use taxes. I get that they're going after the big fish like Amazon in an attempt to convince smaller retailers to comply of their own accord, but that still means collecting data from tens if not hundreds of thousands of sources. And given decisions like the one you referenced, they're not likely to get anywhere near 100% reporting from retailers, especially when states have a vested interest in protecting the rights of their own businesses...after all, more online vendors located in their own state means more tax revenues from those businesses.

        The much simpler solution would be to deal with the credit card companies. There's relatively few of them and they've got data on nearly every out-of-state transaction. What they don't have is a breakdown of the transaction including items purchased and shipping costs, but it's enough to know whether taxes should have been collected or whether the resident should be declaring use taxes. Using data from the credit card companies, the states can come close enough to decide whether the resident has been truthful in his or her use tax reporting and whether or not the resident should be selected for audit.

        And the credit card companies should be easier to deal with since they can likely be enticed or threatened by possible legislation governing how they do business in the state (i.e. personal bankruptcy laws, credit card terms disclosure, limits on excessive fees, etc.)

    • by Etherized (1038092) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:35AM (#31908530)

      Sales tax!? Bah, if you give up schools and paved roads, you can do without it entirely.

      We do!

      NC's government is so corrupt, we're currently giving up schools and paved roads even *with* the sales tax.

    • On the other hand (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:36AM (#31908546)

      We're talking about the most expensive government in the entire history of centralized power. To claim that lack of revenue is a problem is utterly laughable. With the trillions of dollars spent by the US government every year, we should be living in a utopia by now. But we're not. We're far from it.

      Clearly, the problem is where the money goes, not lack of it. In fact, it could be argued that too much money is the problem. We ought to support any measure which keeps money out of the hands of the power elite, because common sense tells us that at the very least, they have way, way too much of it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Omestes (471991)

        Clearly, the problem is where the money goes, not lack of it. In fact, it could be argued that too much money is the problem. We ought to support any measure which keeps money out of the hands of the power elite, because common sense tells us that at the very least, they have way, way too much of it.

        I'm not a libertarian, nor conservative, I actually am a lefty bordering on socialist, and I somewhat agree with your statement. I live in Arizona, a state that recently decided to close down most of their park

    • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @09:00AM (#31908770) Homepage Journal

      and many have specific taxes aimed at roads.

      Wait till the majority finds out how plush federal, state, local, and school, retirements are and how much of a debt bomb we have coming up funding programs that would cause so much angst if there were in the private areas, especially those bailed out.

      I know you might have tried to be witty, but when push comes to shove you can guarantee that three areas will be cut to make the pain unbearable

      1. Schools
      2. Police
      3. Fire

      Politicians know what buttons to push. Look at NJ for what uncontrolled spending does to a state and the actions needed to fix it.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @09:23AM (#31908984)

        Posting AC. As a Federal employee, I can tell you that our retirement is not "plush" and hasn't been since CSRS went away. Now we have a small (reasonable) pension and a 401(k)-like account called a TSP that has a small match (5%).

        Given that as an attorney I make far less with the government what I would in the private sector, yet I go to work every day happily, believing in what I do, and working hard, my retirement benefits are perfectly reasonable.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          State employee here.
          Most young people I work with are pretty much only here for the benefits. If I stick with the State, I'll have made anywhere from 20-100% less than my peers (depending on factors like location and willingness to travel) for the course of my career, I've been 4 years now without a raise, despite being a dedicated and productive employee (I did no programming when I started, and now I am, yet I'm still making the same salary). I've been with the State for 10 years now, and of those 10 year

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            I've been 4 years now without a raise, despite being a dedicated and productive employee (I did no programming when I started, and now I am, yet I'm still making the same salary). I've been with the State for 10 years now, and of those 10 years, the only raises I've seen that weren't from me changing jobs were ~3% COL increases, which has happened 4 times. That's pretty crummy, considering the absolutely insane amount of growth the state saw over the past decade.

            Welcome to the real world son, I've worked at my current job for 3 years, seen one promotion and a job change, and not a dime of extra pay - no COL, no nothing. I even saw a 5% cut when the economy went south. All that, and relatively speaking I have a good, secure job.

            I'd be pretty happy with your 12% raises in the current economic climate.

            Very few private companies have plush retirements that match State retirements. Of those that did have them, like GM, they've been getting rid of them.

            My last employe

        • by ProfBooty (172603) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @10:48AM (#31910150)

          I'd say FERS is fairly generous compared to a private employer. I'm a GS-14 and if I was to retire with 40 years of service I would get 44% of my 3 year average high salary, which would be roughly 61k a year in pension on top of TSP. You can also continue FEHB as well, assuming you have at least 5 years of service, though I am unsure if you are required to pay the entire portion or not.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by NotOverHere (1526201)

      Disclaimer: I grew up in NH.

      And Tax-achusetts is doing soooo well with it's superior roads and schools. Must be something up when the only visible tax is property tax, and the visible use of taxes (roads and schools) are doing better. Or that with no sales taxes, the malls just over the boarder have more cars with Mass plates than NH (even with the price increase that comes with passing property taxes on to the consumer). The Pheasant Lane mall is mostly in Tyngsboro, but the main office is in Nashua, an

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by tophermeyer (1573841)

        Disclaimer: I grew up in NH.

        And Tax-achusetts is doing soooo well with it's superior roads and schools.

        Some of us here like potholes and unmarked one-way roads. Makes driving here a challenge, and by nature makes us all better drivers.

      • MA roads pretty much suck; but MA schools consistently put out some of the best results in the country(and, before somebody jumps in bemoaning what a low bar that is, that means that they outperform Europe and much of Asia, to the degree that it has been possible to make reasonable comparisons).
    • by inf4mia (1583323) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @09:11AM (#31908890)
      In NC we have the highest taxes [census.gov] in the southeast. We still don't have decent schools [mountainx.com] and we have some of the most dangerous bridges in the country (our roads are no picnic either). NC used to be called the "good roads state" but that no longer applies... This is just another money grab by Raleigh since they spent like drunken sailors during the dot com boom and are now broke (just like a drunken sailor).
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Sales tax!? Bah, if you give up schools and paved roads, you can do without it entirely.

      I live in California. We gave up on schools and paved roads a long time ago, you insensitive clod!

    • by gander666 (723553)

      Don't worry, my critters in AZ are trying really hard to test this theory and follow your example. (although, they are slashing education budgets first).

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:12AM (#31908354)

    Interstate trade regulation is one of the few enumerated responsibilities that the American government has. Its role is to step in to solve precisely this type of dispute. This would be a grand opportunity to decide once and for all whether internet purchases can be practically taxed, or whether the whole of interstate commerce law is a sham.

    North Carolina shouldn't be demanding this type of information from Amazon, but the citizens of NC shouldn't be skirting the law and avoiding paying taxes either.

    • by Chaos Incarnate (772793) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:16AM (#31908370) Homepage
      Not paying an unconstitutional tax on interstate commerce—the regulation of which is expressly limited to Congress—isn't "skirting the law", it's "doing your duty as a citizen of the country".
      • NC is seeking the purchase records in an investigation of use-tax evasion by purchasers within NC. Most states don't bother trying to enforce this due to these sort of difficulties, but they have legitimate cause to do so.

        • by Chaos Incarnate (772793) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:33AM (#31908504) Homepage
          It's only "legitimate" if you accept that their tax on interstate commerce is also legitimate. Those taxes are the very kind of thing the interstate commerce clause was meant to prevent.
          • Not quite, though the distinction is sometimes subtle. If use tax applied only to goods purchased across state lines, then you would be correct that it would be a tariff between states and unconstitutional. However, it applies generally to any transaction where the seller is not obligated to collect sales tax on behalf of the state. This is irrespective of whether the seller is in or out-of state. If I sell my stamp collection to my neighbor for $500, I am not collecting sales tax on that transaction, and my neighbor should report that and pay use-tax on his state return. It doesn't matter if he boutght it from me, or from someone out of state. His obligation would be the same.

            • I can't speak for North Carolina, but that's not how Michigan words it on their tax forms...
            • by Stele (9443)

              But I ALREADY paid sales tax on those stamps. What right does the state think it has to tax the sale AGAIN? THIS is what I really have a problem with.

              • by Ill_Omen (215625)

                But I ALREADY paid sales tax on those stamps. What right does the state think it has to tax the sale AGAIN? THIS is what I really have a problem with.

                I don't know about other states, but in MA, you count any sales tax paid as a credit against the use tax. So if you purchase something in New York and pay sales tax, you don't have to pay use tax on it when you bring it home. If you purchase something online from Dell and pay sales tax, you don't have to pay use tax when you use it at home. If you purchase something from Amazon (which doesn't charge sales tax), you are obligated to pay use tax on it.

              • Agree completely! I just moved to NV from TX. Why in the hell should I pay taxes on my car and motorcycle when I've already done it twice. Once when I purchased them in GA, and then again when I registered them in TX.
            • by bigdavex (155746) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @09:22AM (#31908980)

              Suppose two parties privately sell an item in one state and then the new owner transports the item to a second state. He uses the item in the second state. Tax is paid in the first state. The tax is paid on the transaction not on the use. So how can the state say with a straight face that this is a "use tax"? It's clearly linguistic gymnastics to circumvent the commerce clause.

              • A point this fine is properly the domain of an accountant or tax lawyer practicing in the states in question, but generally the user should pay use tax the State B in which the item is used, and if State A attempts to tax it the owner can show them his paid tax reciept from State B.

      • by Late Adopter (1492849) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @09:10AM (#31908878)
        Not sure where you're getting unconstitutional from... The Supreme Court explicitly ruled use-taxes constitutional in Henneford v. Silas Mason Co. (300 US 577, 1937), provided the tax "is not so measured or conditioned as to hamper the transactions of interstate commerce or discriminate against them" (read as: as long as Use Tax isn't larger than the Sales Tax).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:30AM (#31908482)

      What isn't touched on in the article is that the NC state government is extremely corrupt in dealings with money. We already have the highest state income tax, sales tax, gas tax, property taxes and insurance rates in the region. Honestly, about 45% of my income goes to the above mentioned things. The rest go for cell phone (taxed), car payment (taxed), dog (taxed)... you see where this is going. Our idiot governor keeps making trips to Hollywood and China, trying to bring jobs to the state (really?); all she's doing is blowing $100k everytime she takes a trip like that. Amazon was the only way I could afford my text books when I was in college, seeing as how the STATE college charged 130% of the list price in their bookstore. NC needs to learn to make do with all the money they rob from their residents without taxing us on something else.

    • by mdmkolbe (944892)

      This would be a grand opportunity to decide once and for all whether internet purchases can be practically taxed

      Having the fed "decide once and for all" is exactly what is wrong with federal encroachment on state rights. In this case because it is an enumerated power and it is interstate, I actually agree that the fed needs to settle at least the interstate part of the issue but "once and for all" is a very dangerous justification. While I'm sure you would never misuse it, plenty of others have.

    • With the current Congress and Administration, they will either do A) nothing or B) something that makes issues like this *even worse*.

  • by CodePwned (1630439) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:14AM (#31908364)

    Not that this is an excuse, but because the NC government won't play triage with projects and cut what it can tolerate so the budget is experiencing a shortfall again in the billions.

    • by stonewallred (1465497) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:34AM (#31908518)
      As a NC native I am sad and outraged at this. Our state used to be known as the "Good Roads" state, but now the roads are falling apart, we have a ton of unsafe bridges and a state government full of thieves and morons(I apologize to any morons I offended by comparing politicians to you). The politicians spend, spend, spend, from te state level down to the cities and counties. Hell, in Winston-Salem, they just built a minor league baseball stadium, using mostly tax money, for a mere 30 million or so. Of course they claim it will pay back the money by selling 4500 tickets per home game. Lol, at the old stadium they were lucky to get 900 folks, and there you could avoid getting mugged walking to your car. At the new stadium there is only about 2000 parking spaces and 75% of them are on the street roughly 4 blocks or more away, in the middle of crack town, with syringes and crack vials littering the gutters. Not to mention our state parks being gutted by lack of funding. I hope Amazon wins and I hope the NC government DIAF.
  • by Capt James McCarthy (860294) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:16AM (#31908380) Journal

    I would think that this is North Carolina's way to have amazon.com to start collecting taxes when items are shipped to their state. It's a force move.

    Logically, there would be way to much spent then collected IMO. The state would have to track down each customers tax returns for (they can only go back a certain amount of time for an audit and I though it was 5 years, not 7 which NC wants), and then correlate the data to either ensure that the taxpayer claimed the items or did not claim the items. Then the state would have to calculate taxes on said items, or see if it affects the effective tax rate for said taxpayer, then tack on interest to those monies, then notify the taxpayer if the state can find the tax payer (moved since filing, died, etc...).

    Another question would be how the state came up with the number of purchases from amazon.com to their state?

  • by protodevilin (1304731) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:17AM (#31908384)
    ...but I can't imagine why in hell the revenue department should know what particular items were purchased by each customer. If they're worried about losing revenue then their focus should be limited to the monies paid only; gathering data on which specific xbox games that Cleetus T. Carolina purchased during the tax year seems irrelevant.
    • by LaminatorX (410794) <sabotage.praecantator@com> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:30AM (#31908478) Homepage

      The goods purchased may not all be taxed at the same rate, or some may be exempt. General catagories rather than specific titles may be acceptable, but a total dollar amount alone is likely insufficient for proper assessment.

    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Because Amazon is not being asked to collect the taxes. The State wants the information so they can audit their own citizens and see if they've paid up. And Amazon is not going to be aware of what items are taxable, nontaxable, or taxable at different rates within a state, not to mention county, municipal, or zone taxes, tax holidays on specific items, etc etc.

      So they are going to pull Cleetus's sales records, say "Hey, Cleetus, you purchased 12 CDs at $10 each at a tax rate of 5%, 4 XBOX games at a luxur

  • Perhaps North Carolina and Amazon could come to a compromise and instead of getting the details of exactly what a customer purchased they could instead get a broad category.

    So for example -
    Bob Smith
    123 Fake Street
    5x Books
    Total Cost $50

    But I don't know how a usage tax works so you might get a tax break if it was for example a school book instead of a "fun" book (e.g. Women's Porn/"Romance").

  • Look, taxes are collected on these companies in EU. Here, we leave companies in limbo and then have the brick/morters at an unfair disadvantage. It is also hurting gov. entities and making it difficult to balance budgets. It is far better to change the US law and require that online taxex be collected by all businesses. BUT, it should be a FIXED amount, which includes a FIXED fed, state, county and city rate. To be honest, I think that at this time, a singular fixed tax should be applied on all transaction
    • by medcalf (68293)
      So what do you do when the retailer is in, say, Canada, but the fulfiller (shipping the book) and the customer (receiving the book) are in the US? You can't get them for customs: they didn't import anything. Nor can you get them for selling things across state lines: they didn't. It was an international sale and an interstate shipping. The tax model for brick and mortar simply doesn't work online: it's too easy to avoid. Nor does it seem to me that there's any reason to tax interstate sales in this way. Te
  • by DigitalSorceress (156609) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:28AM (#31908466)

    I sincerely hope Amazon wins, but it seems to me that without some kind of federal-level intervention, more and more states are going to push to get online / mailorder merchants to collect their taxes.

    Amazon's big enough that if push came to shove, they could probably implement a sales tax system based on delivery address that could cover all 50 states and the territories.

    However, what really scares me is that this would be a death blow to a lot of smaller online and mail order retailers. I built a catalog and shopping cart system for a friend who had a business model that just didn't quite fit existing off the shelf models, and I have to say that I do not relish the idea of having to build in a system for 50+ different sets of taxes. However, that task is childs-play compared to the accounting nightmare my friend would have in having to fill out forms and remittances to all those different jurisdictions. She gets by, but doesn't exactly have a huge margin... the extra complication of collecting for all those jurisdictions and time/effort needed to deal with it could tip the scales on whether her business continues to be profitable or not.

    So, this isn't really about one state being greedy - it's about the camel's nose under the tent.

    Sooner or later, someone will suggest that the federal government charge some modest tax (say 5%) on all online / mailorder sales, then distribute the funds to the states based on their share of the delivered sales.

    Of course, the federal government would probably not be able to resist getting THEIR hands on the money and we'd either end up with an insane rate with the federal government back-dooring a national sales tax in, or the states complaining that the rate needs to be higher since they're still "losing money" versus collecting their full state sales tax.

    This is just an ugly situation all 'round.

    Personally, I would think that the success of online retailers is at least partly due to the largely tax-free nature of sales transactions. I doubt we'd see sales taxes kill e-commerce, but I can see it hurting small e-tailers and having a bit of a downward pressure on sales as it'll be eating into the spending power of the buyers.

    • by Sesticulus (544932) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:45AM (#31908632)

      I do not relish the idea of having to build in a system for 50+ different sets of taxes.

      Like it's only 50! Sales taxes can change along county and township boundaries. What is actually taxed changes too.

      • by natehoy (1608657) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @10:58AM (#31910302) Journal

        Yes, try something closer to 50,000 tax rates once you factor in county/municipal/local sales taxes, differing rates based on the item sold of which categories differ by state (a bag of potato chips sold here in Maine is considered a "snack" if it's a small bag and is therefore taxable, but "groceries" if it's a large bag and is therefore nontaxable, unless it is sold in a place that depends on prepared food sales like a restaurant for more than 50% of their income at which point it's a "snack" again).

    • Also, for some purchases, shipping is cheaper than or equal to sales tax. At the point that you add tax+shipping, then purchasing online has really lost most of it's appeal and it just makes more sense (from a budget perspective) to go to the brick and mortar store and but it.
      • Also, for some purchases, shipping is cheaper than or equal to sales tax. At the point that you add tax+shipping, then purchasing online has really lost most of it's appeal and it just makes more sense (from a budget perspective) to go to the brick and mortar store and but it.

        As a seller, you should be competing with other sellers. If you can only compete successfully because you allow your customers to cheat on their taxes, and your competitor cannot allow them to cheat, why should you gain an advantage from that?

      • Which wouldn't break North Carolina's heart AT ALL. If you went to a "brick and mortar" store to purchase your item it sure would make their tax collection efforts a lot easier now wouldn't it?

        There is no real downside to the State of N.C. in this action. If they win and Amazon gives them what they want they get extra money. If Amazon "goes nuclear" and refuses to ship to N.C. then it drives customers into the traditional B&M stores where the state can collect sales tax. If the state loses and Amazon do

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by cgfsd (1238866)

      Good luck Amazon, as Al Capone found out, you can get away with murder, but you can't beat tax evasion.

      Why when it comes to taxes you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent, and then you are still guilty anyway?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Starving the beast just made the beast hungrier. VAT will probably be a priority in Obama's second term.
    • LOL. 50+? I bet it runs into the hundreds of thousands, and not even Google could keep up with the changes. Imagine rules like:

      if (zipcode == '59025')
      if (purchaserisinsidecitylimits)
      if (itemcategory == 'food')
      if (itemiscooked && paymentmethod != 'government')
      // Prepared foods are taxable
      taxpercent = 6.25;
  • by PAjamian (679137) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @08:35AM (#31908524)

    They're just using this as a legal reason not to release their customer records. If you could cite a constitutional amendment to get out of a tax audit wouldn't you?

  • Amazon is arguing that the records of what books, music, and videos its customers bought deserve enhanced protection.

    Aren't companies obliged to purge these records after some time, just like say, google, is obliged to purge search records?
    I sure hope they are...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by glwtta (532858)
      Aren't companies obliged to purge these records after some time, just like say, google, is obliged to purge search records?

      Don't think I've heard of that. I'm pretty sure, at best, there are limits on how long they are required to keep the records.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by amaiman (103647)
      Not that I'm aware of. If it is a requirement (and I've never heard that it is), they're certainly not doing it. I can see my Amazon purchases on my order history page going back to 1999 (when I started shopping there.)
  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @09:04AM (#31908826) Homepage
    Maybe NC ought to patent ''One Click Taxation'' and charge the other 49 states to use it - that would be a nice little earner for them and might solve their budget balancing problems.
  • Political tool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @09:07AM (#31908848) Homepage
    The CNet article mentions the Video Privacy Protection Act [epic.org] but not the events leading up to it. The Slashdot summary, of course, doesn't mention it at all except vaguely that the videos "deserve enhanced protection".

    In 1987, the Washington City Paper, a paper from the left, published [theamericanporch.com] the video rental history of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, from the right. There was next to no dirt found, but it wasn't for lack of self-admitted trying. It was a politically motivated stunt, and they were desperate to find X-rated rentals or even just a penchant for a particular actress of the day.

    By revealing detailed media purchases to a government, it gives the incumbents the opportunity to smear political challengers.

  • What's really interesting to me is that some states try to argue for use taxes on non-concrete goods, like ebooks or downloads or whatever - even though the ones whose laws I've read confine it to 'tangible' goods.

  • Get rid of sales tax (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frinkster (149158) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @10:11AM (#31909620)

    States need to recognize that they have lost the battle with online retailers and instead do what they can to lower the cost of business for in-state retailers.

    Namely, get rid of sales taxes and make it up via property tax and income tax.

    As luck would have it, the Federal tax code encourages this. An individual is allowed to deduct their choice of two out of these three forms of taxation via Schedule A. Residents of the states which only have two of the three taxes get an unfair advantage as they are allowed to deduct their entire state taxes instead of a portion of them.

    Any state that eliminates sales tax gets the advantage of lowering the overall tax burden of their residents AND providing an attractive location for online retailers to build warehouses and provide jobs that increase the tax base for the state.

    • "States need to recognize that they have lost the battle with online retailers and instead do what they can to lower the cost of business for in-state retailers."

      They don't believe that they've lost and I have to agree with them.

      It's now technically possible to get what they want. The state of taxation for online purchases is currently in legal limbo. Congress keeps extending the "tax free" period but as the budget crisis deepens more and more state governments are going to pummeling their Congressional Leg

  • by John Murdoch (102085) on Tuesday April 20, 2010 @10:49AM (#31910170) Homepage Journal

    This is pretty simple. North Carolina is bluffing, hoping that Amazon will not take this to the federal appellate courts.

    There is longstanding legal precedent banning government authorities from requiring bookstores or libraries to disclose information about a customer's interests. This has been litigated repeatedly, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court; the rulings have subsequently been applied to videotape/CD rentals as well. There is related case law pertaining to the subscription lists of magazines and newspapers--but that's a slightly different subject.

    Brief synopsis of legal history:
    A brief synopsis of bookstore and library privacy issues can be found at ReaderPrivacy.org [readerprivacy.org].

    But there's a bit more
    As the Reader Privacy article notes, the PATRIOT Act (rushed into law immediately after the 9/11 tragedy) specifically gives the FBI the ability to subpoena purchase records from bookstores, as well as borrowing records from libraries. However--that power is limited to the FBI (although it can probably be exercised by other federal law enforcement agencies)--but it requires a federal judge to sign the warrant, based on probable cause, naming a specific individual. That gives no support at all to a state sales tax authority asking for a complete data dump of 7 years worth of purchase transactions.

    In short--this will annoy Amazon's management, provide hefty fees for a bunch of lawyers, and produce a grand total of zero revenue for the state of North Carolina.

  • Yes, the government needs to know what book you bought, not just how much you paid for it. /sarcasm off

    I hope this is the part that is frightening people, not that the feds are trying to get more $..

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