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Judge Slams FBI Fishing Expedition at Amazon


— November 28, 2007

How would you feel if you bought a book through Amazon and then found out your book purchasing records had been turned over to the FBI? Would it make you think twice about shopping at Amazon in the future? Amazon think so, and it turns out, so does a federal judge (order, PDF).

The FBI is going after one Robert B. DeAngelo, a former Madison, WI, official who has been indicted on tax evasion and mail and wire fraud charges, Cnet’s Declan McCullagh reports. It seems DeAngelo ran a healthy little used book and CD business out of city offices. He kept his costs low by using city computers and city warehouses.

So to get the goods on DeAngelo, the FBI wants to talk to some of his customers. Not that they suspect the customers were involved or were victimized by the scheme, but to get information to nail DeAngelo. So they issued (or rather the grand jury issued) a subpoena to Amazon for information on every one of DeAngelos customers. Eventually the subpoena was changed to 120 customers, 30 for each year under investigation.

Amazon felt the request infringed on their customers’ First Amendment privacy rights and moved to quash the subpoena. Specifically Amazon argued you have a First Amendment right to keep your book-buying history private. The government argued there is no such privacy right.

Judge Stephen Crocker held that there is a “cognizable First Amendment right” in such privacy, which can be balanced with the government’s need for information by having Amazon contact DeAngelo’s customers and ask for volunteers to talk to the FBI.

Details here from ZD Net.


How would you feel if you bought a book through Amazon and then found out your book purchasing records had been turned over to the FBI? Would it make you think twice about shopping at Amazon in the future? Amazon think so, and it turns out, so does a federal judge (order, PDF).

The FBI is going after one Robert B. DeAngelo, a former Madison, WI, official who has been indicted on tax evasion and mail and wire fraud charges, Cnet’s Declan McCullagh reports. It seems DeAngelo ran a healthy little used book and CD business out of city offices. He kept his costs low by using city computers and city warehouses.

So to get the goods on DeAngelo, the FBI wants to talk to some of his customers. Not that they suspect the customers were involved or were victimized by the scheme, but to get information to nail DeAngelo. So they issued (or rather the grand jury issued) a subpoena to Amazon for information on every one of DeAngelos customers. Eventually the subpoena was changed to 120 customers, 30 for each year under investigation.

Amazon felt the request infringed on their customers’ First Amendment privacy rights and moved to quash the subpoena. Specifically Amazon argued you have a First Amendment right to keep your book-buying history private. The government argued there is no such privacy right.

Judge Stephen Crocker held that there is a “cognizable First Amendment right” in such privacy, which can be balanced with the government’s need for information by having Amazon contact DeAngelo’s customers and ask for volunteers to talk to the FBI.

Details here from ZD Net.

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