Thursday, November 4, 2010

Big Brother wants to know about your Internet purchases

Time Magazine

In the old days, when you trekked to a store to buy a book or magazine with cash, there was no permanent record of the purchase. But in the Internet age, with every book, magazine and DVD just a few clicks (and a credit card number) away, virtually anything you buy online is recorded — and sellers often keep the information permanently (or sell it to third parties). That's bad enough, but what if the government tried to get its hands on that personal data? In fact, the state of North Carolina has been trying to do just that. It's been on a disturbing campaign to force to give it detailed records on which First Amendment–protected products its residents have bought online. Last week, a federal court said no in an important win for online-privacy rights — but more remains to be done.

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." [...]

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