ACLU joins case against NC; state hunts online buyers

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A civil rights group asked on Wednesday to intervene in a lawsuit against North Carolina tax collectors in an effort to protect the identity of online buyers and their purchases.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the motion in a lawsuit involving and the state Department of Revenue, which wants to collect state taxes on products purchased online.

The ACLU filed the motion to a federal court in Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered. The civil rights group said the state agency’s demand for information is unconstitutional.

The revenue department has asked Amazon for the names and addresses of buyers and a description of their purchases.

The ACLU said it was acting on behalf of several North Carolina residents who were concerned about people discovering the titles of books they purchased. One woman did not want people to find out about her atheist beliefs, and a law student was afraid that if her political views were exposed, it would hurt her career prospects.

“The ACLU is not taking issue with the department’s authority to collect taxes on these purchases, but there is no legitimate reason why government officals need to know which books or movies or CDs North Carolina consumers are purchasing,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU in North Carolina.

Rudinger said Amazon has already provided the department with product codes that reveal the exact items purchased. She said her organization wants the state agency to destroy the codes and narrow the scope of its information requests.

The revenue department said it would give online retailers through August to sign an agreement to collect and pay taxes on products sold to North Carolina customers. filed the lawsuit in April and said complying with the department’s information requests would harm customers who may have bought controversial merchandise and could diminish future sales.

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AP-WS-06-23-10 1721EDT