Sunday, December 02, 2007

Reading Habits Protected in US

What did you buy last week or the week before? What books have you bought from Amazon?

We read about US Federal prosecutors withdrawing a subpoena asking for the identities of thousands of people who bought used books through online retailer The withdrawal came after a judge ruled the customers have a First Amendment right to keep their reading habits from the government.

Federal prosecutors issued the subpoena last year as part of a grand jury investigation into prolific seller of used books on Robert D'Angelo, was indicted last month on fraud, money laundering and tax evasion charges. It was claimed that he ran a used book business out of his city office and did not report the income. D'Angelo sold books through the Amazon Marketplace and the prosecutors were looking for buyers who could be witnesses in the case.

The initial subpoena sought records of 24,000 transactions dating back to 1999. Prosecutors later narrowed the subpoena, asking for a sample of 120 customers. A compromise involving sending a letter to the 24,000 customers describing the investigation and asking then to volunteer was then suggested. Finally they found the information on his PC.

The lessons are that Amazon does protect data even when under legal threat to expose it and often those searching will go to what they see as the easiest route before looking under their very noses. It’s a good job they weren’t in the UK they would have probably lost the information to a man on route..