The following news article, from the Associated Press, reports on a very sad and shameful situation. As a U.S. citizen, I'm appalled at all recent government attempts to whittle away at my privacy. For me, reading is indeed an intimate affair. Ands a writer who purchases many new and used books for research purposes too, both online and off, I can only thank God for judges, like Judge Crocker, below, who still remember the reason for our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. Please read it, and pass it along…
Feds Cancel Amazon Customer ID Request
Nov 27, 3:58 PM (ET) / Associated Press
By RYAN J. FOLEY
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Federal prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena
seeking the identities of thousands of people who bought used books
through online retailer Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN), newly unsealed court records show.
The withdrawal came after a judge ruled the customers have a First
Amendment right to keep their reading habits from the government.
"The (subpoena's) chilling effect on expressive e-commerce would frost
keyboards across America," U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker wrote
in a June ruling.
"Well-founded or not, rumors of an Orwellian federal criminal
investigation into the reading habits of Amazon's customers could
frighten countless potential customers into canceling planned online
book purchases," the judge wrote in a ruling he unsealed last week.
Seattle-based Amazon said in court documents it hopes Crocker's
decision will make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain records
involving book purchases. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said
Tuesday he doubted the ruling would hamper legitimate investigations.
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
"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."
Federal prosecutors issued the subpoena last year as part of a grand
jury investigation into a former Madison official who was a prolific
seller of used books on Amazon.com. They were looking for buyers who
could be witnesses in the case.
The official, Robert D'Angelo, was indicted last month on fraud, money
laundering and tax evasion charges. Prosecutors said he ran a used book
business out of his city office and did not report the income. He has
pleaded not guilty.
D'Angelo sold books through the Amazon Marketplace feature, and buyers paid Amazon, which took a commission.
"We didn't care about the content of what anybody read. We just wanted
to know what these business transactions were," prosecutor Vaudreuil
said Tuesday. "These were simply business records we were seeking to
prove the case of fraud and tax crimes against Mr. D'Angelo."
The initial subpoena sought records of 24,000 transactions dating back
to 1999. The company turned over many records but refused to identify
the book buyers, citing their First Amendment right to keep their
reading choices private.
Prosecutors later narrowed the subpoena, asking the company to identify a sample of 120 customers.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Graber dismissed First Amendment
concerns in an April letter to the company. He said D'Angelo – not
Amazon – was the seller and prosecutors needed proof he sold books
Crocker brokered a compromise in which the company would send a letter
to the 24,000 customers describing the investigation and asking them to
voluntarily contact prosecutors if they were interested in testifying.
Prosecutors said they obtained the customer information they needed
from one of D'Angelo's computers they seized early in the
investigation. Vaudreuil said computer analysts initially failed to
recover the information.
Still, Crocker scolded prosecutors in July for not looking for alternatives earlier.
"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.
The company asked Crocker to unseal the records after D'Angelo was
indicted last month. Crocker granted the request over the objections of
federal prosecutors, who wanted them kept secret.
"Shining some sunlight on the instant dispute reassures the public that
someone is watching the watchers, and that this district's federal
prosecutors are part of the solution, not part of the problem," he