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Amazon Fights For Privacy of Customer Records

kdawson posted about 4 years ago | from the taxing-demands dept.

The Courts 272

suraj.sun notes a CNET article on Amazon's lawsuit against North Carolina on the grounds that the state is trying to violate the privacy and First Amendment rights of Amazon's customers. "Amazon.com filed a lawsuit on Monday to fend off a sweeping demand from North Carolina's tax collectors: [for] detailed records including names and addresses of customers and information about exactly what they had purchased. ... North Carolina's Department of Revenue had ordered the online retailer to provide full details on nearly 50 million purchases made by state residents between 2003 and 2010. Because Amazon has no offices or warehouses in North Carolina, it's not required to collect the [state's] 5.75 percent sales tax on shipments, although tax collectors have reminded residents that what's known as a use tax applies on anything 'purchased or received' through the mail." Amazon is arguing that the records of what books, music, and videos its customers bought deserve enhanced protection.

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Sounds like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908342)

Amazon should move to Switzerland!

All these states should be like New Hampshire (5, Funny)

tgd (2822) | about 4 years ago | (#31908350)

Sales tax!? Bah, if you give up schools and paved roads, you can do without it entirely.

We do!

Oooohh!!! (5, Funny)

tgd (2822) | about 4 years ago | (#31908360)

I think that's my first first-post in 13 years of Slashdot!

*wipes away tear*

(And to you damn kids with mod points who want to mark this off-topic, give an old man a break... Some day you'll be old, too!)

(Oh, and get off my lawn.)

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908470)

They're not losing money, they just push it onto property owners come budget time.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (2, Interesting)

matt_king (19018) | about 4 years ago | (#31908506)

I think my state (Massachusetts) tried to sue a tire company in NH for this same info, and eventually lost (could be mistaken, it was a year or two ago)...precedent?

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (5, Informative)

OhPlz (168413) | about 4 years ago | (#31908784)

Sullivan Tire. The MA SJC shot down the attempt, so I don't think it's much of a precedent. NH did pay close attention to this, various public officials said they would fight this matter to the end.

http://salestaxbuzz.org/2009/08/26/live-fee-or-die-vs-taxachusetts-how-story-ends/ [salestaxbuzz.org]

There was a slight difference. Sullivan actually had some stores in MA. I think MA was trying to use that fact to exert pressure on the chain to supply info on sales that took place in other states.

Reminds me of way back when MA used to send state police to NH to stake out the parking lots of liquor stores. They'd record MA license plates and radio cops along the border to pull those vehicles over for not paying tax on the alcohol they purchased. NH didn't want to lose the sales, so they sent out our own state troopers to remove the MA police.

The fun continues. Not too long ago a MA state rep was photographed at a liquor store in NH buying alcohol. The ironic thing was that he had just voted on increasing the liquor tax in MA. No laws broken, but it seemed a bit unethical to many. "Do as I say, not as I do."

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (1)

Intron (870560) | about 4 years ago | (#31908956)

The fun continues. Not too long ago a MA state rep was photographed at a liquor store in NH buying alcohol. The ironic thing was that he had just voted on increasing the liquor tax in MA. No laws broken, but it seemed a bit unethical to many. "Do as I say, not as I do."

No laws broken as long as he paid the 6.25% use tax on his state tax return. MA has the same tax laws as NC in the article. Residents have to voluntarily pay the use tax on "foreign" purchases. You think the state rep was going to do that?

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (4, Funny)

allseason radial (1603753) | about 4 years ago | (#31909164)

[...] Residents have to voluntarily pay the use tax on "foreign" purchases. You think the state rep was going to do that?

Of course he was. That's what his little black book contained: records of out-of-state purchases, disguised as the names and phone numbers of loose women.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (4, Funny)

Etherized (1038092) | about 4 years ago | (#31908530)

Sales tax!? Bah, if you give up schools and paved roads, you can do without it entirely.

We do!

NC's government is so corrupt, we're currently giving up schools and paved roads even *with* the sales tax.

On the other hand (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908546)

We're talking about the most expensive government in the entire history of centralized power. To claim that lack of revenue is a problem is utterly laughable. With the trillions of dollars spent by the US government every year, we should be living in a utopia by now. But we're not. We're far from it.

Clearly, the problem is where the money goes, not lack of it. In fact, it could be argued that too much money is the problem. We ought to support any measure which keeps money out of the hands of the power elite, because common sense tells us that at the very least, they have way, way too much of it.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908654)

NH meals tax is 9% and higher property taxes.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908716)

Sales tax!? Bah, if you give up schools and paved roads, you can do without it entirely.

We do!

Schools are paid for through property tax, while roads are paid for with gas taxes.

-A Free State Project [freestateproject.org] member.

Property taxes fund the majority of schools (3, Interesting)

Shivetya (243324) | about 4 years ago | (#31908770)

and many have specific taxes aimed at roads.

Wait till the majority finds out how plush federal, state, local, and school, retirements are and how much of a debt bomb we have coming up funding programs that would cause so much angst if there were in the private areas, especially those bailed out.

I know you might have tried to be witty, but when push comes to shove you can guarantee that three areas will be cut to make the pain unbearable

1. Schools
2. Police
3. Fire

Politicians know what buttons to push. Look at NJ for what uncontrolled spending does to a state and the actions needed to fix it.

Re:Property taxes fund the majority of schools (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908984)

Posting AC. As a Federal employee, I can tell you that our retirement is not "plush" and hasn't been since CSRS went away. Now we have a small (reasonable) pension and a 401(k)-like account called a TSP that has a small match (5%).

Given that as an attorney I make far less with the government what I would in the private sector, yet I go to work every day happily, believing in what I do, and working hard, my retirement benefits are perfectly reasonable.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (2, Interesting)

NotOverHere (1526201) | about 4 years ago | (#31908782)

Disclaimer: I grew up in NH.

And Tax-achusetts is doing soooo well with it's superior roads and schools. Must be something up when the only visible tax is property tax, and the visible use of taxes (roads and schools) are doing better. Or that with no sales taxes, the malls just over the boarder have more cars with Mass plates than NH (even with the price increase that comes with passing property taxes on to the consumer). The Pheasant Lane mall is mostly in Tyngsboro, but the main office is in Nashua, and the mall tenants only pay for property tax, no sales tax.

Or how the Mass Pike was supposed to abolish tolls once it "broke even"? For the Pike west of Worcester, I've only seen worse roads in NY.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (2, Funny)

tophermeyer (1573841) | about 4 years ago | (#31909156)

Disclaimer: I grew up in NH.

And Tax-achusetts is doing soooo well with it's superior roads and schools.

Some of us here like potholes and unmarked one-way roads. Makes driving here a challenge, and by nature makes us all better drivers.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (5, Informative)

inf4mia (1583323) | about 4 years ago | (#31908890)

In NC we have the highest taxes [census.gov] in the southeast. We still don't have decent schools [mountainx.com] and we have some of the most dangerous bridges in the country (our roads are no picnic either). NC used to be called the "good roads state" but that no longer applies... This is just another money grab by Raleigh since they spent like drunken sailors during the dot com boom and are now broke (just like a drunken sailor).

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 4 years ago | (#31908902)

Sales tax!? Bah, if you give up schools and paved roads, you can do without it entirely.

I live in California. We gave up on schools and paved roads a long time ago, you insensitive clod!

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (1)

Aeros (668253) | about 4 years ago | (#31908996)

I lived all my life in CA up until a few years ago and got myself and the wife and kids the hell out mainly for that exact reason. Its amazing how much money states like these collect and still can't figure out how to make things work. It seems like the states with the lowest tax base got it figured out..strange.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (1)

sheepofblue (1106227) | about 4 years ago | (#31908940)

If that was what it was paying for then I would have no issue. Instead it pays for a school system that has declining effectiveness with rapidly increasing cost and decreasing responsiveness. Roads that are poorly maintained. A ton of give away programs that are intended to redistribute wealth and buy votes. Pork and self serving programs. Of course this is my state but from my reading I am unaware of any that are that different.

The sad fact is that in many places the government take is closing in on that of the store owner actually running the place (likely it makes more at many grocery stores) All to feed the endless hunger of the government to expand.

Reality is that if the states had a reasonable tax it would not be economical to have an item shipped rather than pay the tax and sales would increase locally.

Re:All these states should be like New Hampshire (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908944)

Good point, not only does NH have no sales tax, there is no state income tax either. And you know what, the roads are actually pretty good.

www.freestateproject.org
www.whynewhampshire.org

What NC needs to do ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908352)

NC needs to pay Amazon for the data for "marketing" purposes. I'm sure Amazon would be happy to share.

Re:What Amazon needs to do ... (2, Interesting)

christrs (187044) | about 4 years ago | (#31909036)

Is not keep sales records for anyone - anywhere - for any longer that is required to process the transaction and handle disputes (60-90 days). After that, then they can aggregate the sales data and strip the identify of the user. Keeping records going back to 2003 (and earlier) is just stupid and bait for any state to try this (especially if NC wins this in court).

This is where the FTC could really step in (3, Interesting)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 4 years ago | (#31908354)

Interstate trade regulation is one of the few enumerated responsibilities that the American government has. Its role is to step in to solve precisely this type of dispute. This would be a grand opportunity to decide once and for all whether internet purchases can be practically taxed, or whether the whole of interstate commerce law is a sham.

North Carolina shouldn't be demanding this type of information from Amazon, but the citizens of NC shouldn't be skirting the law and avoiding paying taxes either.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (5, Insightful)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | about 4 years ago | (#31908370)

Not paying an unconstitutional tax on interstate commerce—the regulation of which is expressly limited to Congress—isn't "skirting the law", it's "doing your duty as a citizen of the country".

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (1)

LaminatorX (410794) | about 4 years ago | (#31908430)

NC is seeking the purchase records in an investigation of use-tax evasion by purchasers within NC. Most states don't bother trying to enforce this due to these sort of difficulties, but they have legitimate cause to do so.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (4, Insightful)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | about 4 years ago | (#31908504)

It's only "legitimate" if you accept that their tax on interstate commerce is also legitimate. Those taxes are the very kind of thing the interstate commerce clause was meant to prevent.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (5, Informative)

LaminatorX (410794) | about 4 years ago | (#31908624)

Not quite, though the distinction is sometimes subtle. If use tax applied only to goods purchased across state lines, then you would be correct that it would be a tariff between states and unconstitutional. However, it applies generally to any transaction where the seller is not obligated to collect sales tax on behalf of the state. This is irrespective of whether the seller is in or out-of state. If I sell my stamp collection to my neighbor for $500, I am not collecting sales tax on that transaction, and my neighbor should report that and pay use-tax on his state return. It doesn't matter if he boutght it from me, or from someone out of state. His obligation would be the same.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908836)

If I sell my stamp collection to my neighbor for $500, I am not collecting sales tax on that transaction, and my neighbor should report that and pay use-tax on his state return.

Sigh. No, he shouldn't. Small incidental purchases like that, where there is no business, are generally not liable for sales or use tax.

On the other hand, if you are in the business of buying & stamps, you are generally required to charge sales tax. In some jurisdictions a business has to meet a minimum annual sales threshold before being obligated to register, collect & remit sales tax.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (1)

LaminatorX (410794) | about 4 years ago | (#31909160)

Various states specific rules are, as they say, all over the map. Neither NC, nor my home state have any minimum-dollar-amount threshold in place, at least not that I can find. It's just not worth the State's time and effort to pursue enforcement below a certain scale. Other states give residents the option to pay a small sum based on income as an estimated use-tax covering any untaxed-purchases valued under $1000 or so. YMMV.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (1)

Stele (9443) | about 4 years ago | (#31908860)

But I ALREADY paid sales tax on those stamps. What right does the state think it has to tax the sale AGAIN? THIS is what I really have a problem with.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908910)

You'll pay taxes again and again. Someone taught the regulators exponential growth.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (1)

Ill_Omen (215625) | about 4 years ago | (#31909066)

But I ALREADY paid sales tax on those stamps. What right does the state think it has to tax the sale AGAIN? THIS is what I really have a problem with.

I don't know about other states, but in MA, you count any sales tax paid as a credit against the use tax. So if you purchase something in New York and pay sales tax, you don't have to pay use tax on it when you bring it home. If you purchase something online from Dell and pay sales tax, you don't have to pay use tax when you use it at home. If you purchase something from Amazon (which doesn't charge sales tax), you are obligated to pay use tax on it.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908934)

"...it applies generally to any transaction where the seller is not obligated to collect sales tax on behalf of the state."

In application it taxes interstate commerce, which makes that application unconstitutional. You don't have to be too smart to puzzle that out.
STATE: "Hmmm, how do I tax interstate commerce without taxing interstate commerce? I know, I'll make a non-specific broad sweeping law that taxes everything that hasn't already been taxed!"

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (5, Interesting)

bigdavex (155746) | about 4 years ago | (#31908980)

Suppose two parties privately sell an item in one state and then the new owner transports the item to a second state. He uses the item in the second state. Tax is paid in the first state. The tax is paid on the transaction not on the use. So how can the state say with a straight face that this is a "use tax"? It's clearly linguistic gymnastics to circumvent the commerce clause.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (1)

LaminatorX (410794) | about 4 years ago | (#31909048)

A point this fine is properly the domain of an accountant or tax lawyer practicing in the states in question, but generally the user should pay use tax the State B in which the item is used, and if State A attempts to tax it the owner can show them his paid tax reciept from State B.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (4, Interesting)

Late Adopter (1492849) | about 4 years ago | (#31908878)

Not sure where you're getting unconstitutional from... The Supreme Court explicitly ruled use-taxes constitutional in Henneford v. Silas Mason Co. (300 US 577, 1937), provided the tax "is not so measured or conditioned as to hamper the transactions of interstate commerce or discriminate against them" (read as: as long as Use Tax isn't larger than the Sales Tax).

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908482)

What isn't touched on in the article is that the NC state government is extremely corrupt in dealings with money. We already have the highest state income tax, sales tax, gas tax, property taxes and insurance rates in the region. Honestly, about 45% of my income goes to the above mentioned things. The rest go for cell phone (taxed), car payment (taxed), dog (taxed)... you see where this is going. Our idiot governor keeps making trips to Hollywood and China, trying to bring jobs to the state (really?); all she's doing is blowing $100k everytime she takes a trip like that. Amazon was the only way I could afford my text books when I was in college, seeing as how the STATE college charged 130% of the list price in their bookstore. NC needs to learn to make do with all the money they rob from their residents without taxing us on something else.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (0, Flamebait)

BubbaDave (1352535) | about 4 years ago | (#31908644)

Well, good chance for the tea partiers could show us all that they aren't just a bunch of blowhards by fixing their shit locally before trying to fix the country.

No, I didn't think so either.

Dave

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (1)

Bartab (233395) | about 4 years ago | (#31908816)

Fix -what- locally? Demand smaller gov't, and less taxes? Done!

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (2, Insightful)

Stele (9443) | about 4 years ago | (#31908872)

Fix -what- locally? Demand smaller gov't, and less taxes? Done!

That really worked well during Bush's 8 years, didn't it?

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908680)

Have you ever hear of New Jersey? People from New Jersey to North Carolina in droves precisely because the taxes are lower by magnitudes - especially property taxes.

Re:This is where the FTC could really step in (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908688)

I don't disagree but what a pain in the but to keep track of! I didn't even realize you were supposed to pay taxes on stuff bought in other states until recently (which means you get taxes 2x on those items!!! not to mention that the money you pay with was already taxed). And then you have to figure out what items were gifts and which you "used." How do I prove it was a gift? And what if it was something from an Amazon seller within NC that was shipped to me in NC - does that make a difference?

Why Amazon? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908358)

Where's the equality in this? Why not ALL the other companies that ship to North Carolina? Are they trying to set precedent by going after Amazon? If yes; pretty stupid, should have picked on a weaker prey.
That tax sounds retarded by the way, and that's coming from someone who lives in Holland,

-Your Dutch friend.

NC is desperate for money (5, Insightful)

CodePwned (1630439) | about 4 years ago | (#31908364)

Not that this is an excuse, but because the NC government won't play triage with projects and cut what it can tolerate so the budget is experiencing a shortfall again in the billions.

Re:NC is desperate for money (1)

Turzyx (1462339) | about 4 years ago | (#31908422)

If that's the case, why not get online retailers to add an additional tax to products shipped to NC zip codes, which is then handed over?

I'm not familiar with the US tax system, but in the UK VAT is added at the point of sale, included in the price, and the total gathered by the supplier is paid once a year to the tax man.

If this is just to get taxes, why do they need personal information? So they can pursue cases individually? Talk about ball-ache.

Re:NC is desperate for money (3, Informative)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 4 years ago | (#31908452)

They can't force out of state companies to collect taxes for them. That would be illegal.

However the tax must be paid (akin to a customs fee) upon entering the state. But since there is no feasible way for the state to know what is passing into its borders, citizens are able to avoid paying the state sales tax (or use tax in this case).

The answer to your question is yes. They need the personal information to pursue the purchasers individually.

Re:NC is desperate for money (1)

Nadaka (224565) | about 4 years ago | (#31908672)

Also state taxes on good sold across the border are unconstitutional. The use tax is a way of cheating and getting around the constitutional tax limit.

Re:NC is desperate for money (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | about 4 years ago | (#31908774)

I believe the EU handles VAT by making the seller pay the VAT in his home country and prohibiting any duties or taxes on importing from EU countries so the buyer's country cannot charge extra for that. Maybe the federal government could create a similar rule in the US.

Re:NC is desperate for money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908924)

Correction: in most cases VAT is paid (or reclaimed) quarterly. There is an annual scheme for small businesses, but I am not sure if it is widely used.

Re:NC is desperate for money (4, Insightful)

stonewallred (1465497) | about 4 years ago | (#31908518)

As a NC native I am sad and outraged at this. Our state used to be known as the "Good Roads" state, but now the roads are falling apart, we have a ton of unsafe bridges and a state government full of thieves and morons(I apologize to any morons I offended by comparing politicians to you). The politicians spend, spend, spend, from te state level down to the cities and counties. Hell, in Winston-Salem, they just built a minor league baseball stadium, using mostly tax money, for a mere 30 million or so. Of course they claim it will pay back the money by selling 4500 tickets per home game. Lol, at the old stadium they were lucky to get 900 folks, and there you could avoid getting mugged walking to your car. At the new stadium there is only about 2000 parking spaces and 75% of them are on the street roughly 4 blocks or more away, in the middle of crack town, with syringes and crack vials littering the gutters. Not to mention our state parks being gutted by lack of funding. I hope Amazon wins and I hope the NC government DIAF.

Re:NC is desperate for money (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908608)

In short: "I do not like the government spending money on stuff I don't like (sports stadiums). They should be spending it on things I do like (state parks)."

Re:NC is desperate for money (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | about 4 years ago | (#31908800)

They have a duty to keep up at least the infrastructure. Also by the sounds of it they didn't make a new sports stadium, they bought it from a private owner so the citizens would have a stadium even without that investment. The parks aren't going to be funded by anyone else though.

Re:NC is desperate for money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908854)

Actually...

Our state used to be known as the "Good Roads" state, but now the roads are falling apart, we have a ton of unsafe bridges and a state government full of thieves and morons(I apologize to any morons I offended by comparing politicians to you).

Contrasted against

Hell, in Winston-Salem, they just built a minor league baseball stadium, using mostly tax money, for a mere 30 million or so.

What's more important, entertainment or motherfucking roads which are basically the life-blood of industry in North Carolina?

* Disclaimer: I'm a NC resident.

Re:NC is desperate for money (4, Interesting)

sglewis100 (916818) | about 4 years ago | (#31908998)

Hell, in Winston-Salem, they just built a minor league baseball stadium, using mostly tax money, for a mere 30 million or so.

While I'm FAR from supporting tax-payer funded stadiums in most cases, there's a huge difference between a five hundred million park for a professional team threatening half-heartedly to move and an affordable stadium meant to lure or keep a low revenue minor league park.

Minor league teams are great for families (bring a family of four for the price of one ticket in a major league park), and it's very feasible that the tax collected over the life of that stadium will absolutely exceed 30 million. So it may very well fund a road or two. Beats another toll road every day...

Re:NC is desperate for money (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908762)

This is what happens when a sizable fraction of the state is teabagging idiots whose only goal in life (apart from jizzing on Sarah Palin's face) is eliminating all the evil socialist taxes that make baby Jeebus cry. "Tax and spend" might not be everyone's favorite policy, but it's a huge improvement over the "cut taxes and spend moar" ideology that's taken over the American right-wing.

Not just NC (1)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | about 4 years ago | (#31908626)

Not that this is an excuse, but because the NC government won't play triage with projects and cut what it can tolerate so the budget is experiencing a shortfall again in the billions.

It's not a NC thing - ALL governments have that problem.

The only time they can cut is if the special interest group doesn't have enough political clout - See. GA and the grants for artists. [ajc.com] - it'll probably get cut. GA is a solid Red state and in these economic times, many folks aren't too sympathetic with the artists who are getting government "handouts" to do what they are passionate about.

I'm pretty conflicted (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908372)

I've been boycotting Amazon for their one click patent, but this is a pretty good stance on their part. Unfortunately, the very fact that states would do this means I'd probably not want to buy from Amazon anyways, albeit for different reasons than their stupid patent stance.

A means to an end... (4, Insightful)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | about 4 years ago | (#31908380)

I would think that this is North Carolina's way to have amazon.com to start collecting taxes when items are shipped to their state. It's a force move.

Logically, there would be way to much spent then collected IMO. The state would have to track down each customers tax returns for (they can only go back a certain amount of time for an audit and I though it was 5 years, not 7 which NC wants), and then correlate the data to either ensure that the taxpayer claimed the items or did not claim the items. Then the state would have to calculate taxes on said items, or see if it affects the effective tax rate for said taxpayer, then tack on interest to those monies, then notify the taxpayer if the state can find the tax payer (moved since filing, died, etc...).

Another question would be how the state came up with the number of purchases from amazon.com to their state?

Re:A means to an end... (1)

maxume (22995) | about 4 years ago | (#31908614)

States have their own laws about how far back they can look at tax returns.

Re:A means to an end... (5, Insightful)

Obyron (615547) | about 4 years ago | (#31908616)

There is also the nuclear option: Amazon refuses to ship to North Carolina, owing to the higher costs of compliance.

Re:A means to an end... (4, Funny)

Stele (9443) | about 4 years ago | (#31908898)

There is also the nuclear option

That's right! Take off and nuke NC from orbit. It's the only way to be sure, of, er, something.

Re:A means to an end... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908754)

And what about gifts shipped to NC? Or what if I, while in NC, ship a gift to my mother in VA? Or what if while I was in VA visiting my mother order a gift for her to be sent to her house? How does NC, or as is more likely to be the case, how do I, prove which scenario happened?
The way I see it is that it is a usage tax they are trying to enforce (NOT a sales tax they are trying to get Amazon to add on) which means things get messy really quickly...

Re:A means to an end... (1)

Herkum01 (592704) | about 4 years ago | (#31909052)

If they are anything like the IRS, they will claim you owe them taxes in a whatever amount they calculate and it will be up to you to go through your return correct to correct their mistakes.

A use tax is all fine and dandy... (5, Insightful)

protodevilin (1304731) | about 4 years ago | (#31908384)

...but I can't imagine why in hell the revenue department should know what particular items were purchased by each customer. If they're worried about losing revenue then their focus should be limited to the monies paid only; gathering data on which specific xbox games that Cleetus T. Carolina purchased during the tax year seems irrelevant.

Re:A use tax is all fine and dandy... (3, Informative)

LaminatorX (410794) | about 4 years ago | (#31908478)

The goods purchased may not all be taxed at the same rate, or some may be exempt. General catagories rather than specific titles may be acceptable, but a total dollar amount alone is likely insufficient for proper assessment.

Incorrect title (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908394)

Should be "Amazon fights against tax legislation".
I'll be the first to stand for privacy, but it's not the real issue here.
Amazon is just trying to evades North Carolina taxes for them and their clients.

Re:Incorrect title (0, Offtopic)

Nadaka (224565) | about 4 years ago | (#31908696)

"Amazon is just trying to avoid paying unconstitutional and illegal taxes for them and their clients."

Fixed that for you.

Re:Incorrect title (1)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | about 4 years ago | (#31908900)

And - not having any legal presence inside NC - what law requires that Amazon pay any taxes in NC? Can NC decide that all residents of NY must also pay NC taxes?

Compromise... (1)

Manip (656104) | about 4 years ago | (#31908418)

Perhaps North Carolina and Amazon could come to a compromise and instead of getting the details of exactly what a customer purchased they could instead get a broad category.

So for example -
Bob Smith
123 Fake Street
5x Books
Total Cost $50

But I don't know how a usage tax works so you might get a tax break if it was for example a school book instead of a "fun" book (e.g. Women's Porn/"Romance").

This is SOOO stupid (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 years ago | (#31908440)

Look, taxes are collected on these companies in EU. Here, we leave companies in limbo and then have the brick/morters at an unfair disadvantage. It is also hurting gov. entities and making it difficult to balance budgets. It is far better to change the US law and require that online taxex be collected by all businesses. BUT, it should be a FIXED amount, which includes a FIXED fed, state, county and city rate. To be honest, I think that at this time, a singular fixed tax should be applied on all transactions across the net, the business collects it, and then sends to a singlar location per country. WIll it be confusing? Sure. That is why businesses will prop up that will handle that for small players, and just tack on their own amount.

And for the argument that this will hurt the 'development' of the net, give me a break. The net is VERY developed compared to what we had in the 80's.

Re:This is SOOO stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908548)

The EU has a single VAT rate per market. Occasionally this rate is adjusted, but generally very stable. There aren't counties, cities and towns doing their own thing. VAT goes to the national govt. It's a lot simpler in Europe. But it's far from perfect, not everyone pays VAT on purchases. Rather than claim it back on VAT returns, they can opt to not pay it by presenting their VAT code, this opens the door to a huge amount of fraud across borders because there's no single point for validation.

No govt body in the US is going to give up taxation powers, so the US local govts will continue to lose revenue. But are they really losing it? The money saved from not paying sales taxes will be spent on something else.

Re:This is SOOO stupid (3, Interesting)

Montezumaa (1674080) | about 4 years ago | (#31908828)

That is not the way the United States Government, nor any of the state governments within the United States, works. The way the United States was initially setup, the states actually passed whatever amount of money they deemed appropriate to the Federal Government. Since the Federal Government was very limited(as it is supposed to be, per the U.S. Constitution), it did not need a huge volume of money to operate effectively. Fast-forward to today and it is a totally different scenario.

The Federal Government, like all state governments, has gotten out of control. Trillions of dollars in useless spending(I am talking about actual useless spending, not important spending, i.e. Military, enforcement, etc) and it does not appear to be getting any better. This is not a new trend, as this as been an issue for a long time.

If people are so enamored with the European's way of life, then those people need to move to Europe. It might seem cool to live in a place that sees vacations as a "human right"(not joking: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article7100943.ece [timesonline.co.uk] ), but such stances are starting to get rather unfunny. Just how long does the EU believe it can fund every lazy person's wet dream(s) before it goes bankrupt?

I know that a VAT would seem a better solution(though not perfect, as you said), but it is not. It would kill businesses that rely on people traveling to get "a better deal", due to lower sales tax in certain states. I see it all the time between Tennessee and Georgia.

I also seeing this as a big hit to commerce, as people would quit spending near as much and many families would suffer. If a VAT were added only to luxury items(actual luxury items and not what government views as "luxury"), then I might concede the point, but that is doubtful. Food and other needed items would get more expensive rather quickly with a broad VAT were enacted.

Also, do you want to have to beat your head against the brick wall that is the IRS if they decide a merchant did not impose a high enough VAT against you? Answer: No.

Inverse Robin Hood (1)

benedictaddis (1472927) | about 4 years ago | (#31908958)

The primary problem with sales tax (or VAT here in the EU) is that it is unfair. Sales tax is a regressive tax; in other words, one that hurts those at the bottom of the pile because the poor spend a higher proportion of their income on 'stuff'. As a result, you get an inverse Robin Hood tax (a Dennis Moore tax?) that steals from the poor to give to the rich. Income tax is a much fairer way to redistribute wealth.

Re:This is SOOO stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908564)

It is also hurting gov. entities and making it difficult to balance budgets.

They could, you know, spend less money.

It is far better to change the US law and require that online taxex be collected by all businesses. BUT, it should be a FIXED amount, which includes a FIXED fed, state, county and city rate.

I'd agree with you if that FIXED rate is 0%. Taxation is theft.

Re:This is SOOO stupid (1)

medcalf (68293) | about 4 years ago | (#31908628)

So what do you do when the retailer is in, say, Canada, but the fulfiller (shipping the book) and the customer (receiving the book) are in the US? You can't get them for customs: they didn't import anything. Nor can you get them for selling things across state lines: they didn't. It was an international sale and an interstate shipping. The tax model for brick and mortar simply doesn't work online: it's too easy to avoid. Nor does it seem to me that there's any reason to tax interstate sales in this way. Technically, if I buy something in MD (where I work) and take it back to VA (where I live), I should pay a use tax (in addition to the sales tax I would pay when I buy it). Yet the state makes no effort to track such purchases, and depends on the taxpayers to self report. Why is this any different from the online world? Why should there be any attempt to do anything differently than we do for physical goods purchased offline? After all, if you believe that taxation benefits the taxed, then tax cheats are only harming themselves, right?

Re:This is SOOO stupid (1)

hellop2 (1271166) | about 4 years ago | (#31908638)

By what logic would you recommend a fixed tax for all states? If I live in a state that doesn't collect sales tax, why should I pay it now?

Obviously, I hope Amazon wins... but (5, Insightful)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | about 4 years ago | (#31908466)

I sincerely hope Amazon wins, but it seems to me that without some kind of federal-level intervention, more and more states are going to push to get online / mailorder merchants to collect their taxes.

Amazon's big enough that if push came to shove, they could probably implement a sales tax system based on delivery address that could cover all 50 states and the territories.

However, what really scares me is that this would be a death blow to a lot of smaller online and mail order retailers. I built a catalog and shopping cart system for a friend who had a business model that just didn't quite fit existing off the shelf models, and I have to say that I do not relish the idea of having to build in a system for 50+ different sets of taxes. However, that task is childs-play compared to the accounting nightmare my friend would have in having to fill out forms and remittances to all those different jurisdictions. She gets by, but doesn't exactly have a huge margin... the extra complication of collecting for all those jurisdictions and time/effort needed to deal with it could tip the scales on whether her business continues to be profitable or not.

So, this isn't really about one state being greedy - it's about the camel's nose under the tent.

Sooner or later, someone will suggest that the federal government charge some modest tax (say 5%) on all online / mailorder sales, then distribute the funds to the states based on their share of the delivered sales.

Of course, the federal government would probably not be able to resist getting THEIR hands on the money and we'd either end up with an insane rate with the federal government back-dooring a national sales tax in, or the states complaining that the rate needs to be higher since they're still "losing money" versus collecting their full state sales tax.

This is just an ugly situation all 'round.

Personally, I would think that the success of online retailers is at least partly due to the largely tax-free nature of sales transactions. I doubt we'd see sales taxes kill e-commerce, but I can see it hurting small e-tailers and having a bit of a downward pressure on sales as it'll be eating into the spending power of the buyers.

Re:Obviously, I hope Amazon wins... but (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908584)

Which is why I personally have no problems with our VAT rate of 19%. Sure it's a fifth of the price tacked on but at least it's ALWAYS that unless it's either a vital requirement for living (such as foodstuffs, only 6%) or specifically exempted stuff, which the ordinary citizen doesn't have to worry about.

There really is no problem with a known fixed rate. It makes it easier for businesses to administer, costs less overhead when doing the books (Can I eat it? No? 19% it is) and the IRS doesn't care to much when you're a few euro's off.

And no, small online retailers don't get disadvantaged from a flat tax anymore than te big boys do. The easier you make it on the entrepreneurs, the more they can do with their money, big or small.

No, the problem with your tax system, as you put it in the first paragraph, is the complexity of it. Not the rates.

Re:Obviously, I hope Amazon wins... but (5, Informative)

Sesticulus (544932) | about 4 years ago | (#31908632)

I do not relish the idea of having to build in a system for 50+ different sets of taxes.

Like it's only 50! Sales taxes can change along county and township boundaries. What is actually taxed changes too.

Re:Obviously, I hope Amazon wins... but (3, Insightful)

cyberworm (710231) | about 4 years ago | (#31908678)

Also, for some purchases, shipping is cheaper than or equal to sales tax. At the point that you add tax+shipping, then purchasing online has really lost most of it's appeal and it just makes more sense (from a budget perspective) to go to the brick and mortar store and but it.

Re:Obviously, I hope Amazon wins... but (1)

shock1970 (1216162) | about 4 years ago | (#31908702)

A federal online tax would be interesting, but there a are some states such as Delaware that don't have any sales tax at all... not sure how well that would go over.

Re:Obviously, I hope Amazon wins... but (2, Insightful)

cgfsd (1238866) | about 4 years ago | (#31908714)

Good luck Amazon, as Al Capone found out, you can get away with murder, but you can't beat tax evasion.

Why when it comes to taxes you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent, and then you are still guilty anyway?

Well, good luck with that, Amazon (0, Flamebait)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 4 years ago | (#31908468)

You think judges don't know where the money for their yachts and golf carts comes from? You might as well ask for the gavels out of their hands, and their mistresses' and rent boys' phone numbers, while you're at it.

I doubt Amazon cares much about our privacy. (2, Insightful)

PAjamian (679137) | about 4 years ago | (#31908524)

They're just using this as a legal reason not to release their customer records. If you could cite a constitutional amendment to get out of a tax audit wouldn't you?

Re:I doubt Amazon cares much about our privacy. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908578)

What the Hell? You never heard of the 4th, 5th, and 14th Amendments?

Re:I doubt Amazon cares much about our privacy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31908930)

They're just using this as a legal reason not to release their customer records. If you could cite a constitutional amendment to get out of a tax audit wouldn't you?

Yes and no. Amazon does not have operations in North Carolina. Therefore, the gov't of North Carolina does not have jurisdiction to audit.

Pretty open & shut case.

Re:I doubt Amazon cares much about our privacy. (1)

PAjamian (679137) | about 4 years ago | (#31909022)

Yeah, I suppose, but I still feel that this is really just an excuse to keep the govt out of their books than anything else.

Re:I doubt Amazon cares much about our privacy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31909092)

What??? The government cannot just demand my private records without a court order. It has nothing to do with a tax audit. If they audit Amazon, they are privy to records detailing Amazon's tax liability, NOT that of their customers.

whups (1)

archangel9 (1499897) | about 4 years ago | (#31908606)

Read that headline as "Amazon Fights for Piracy of Customer Records"

This isn't the article you're looking for. Move along, move along.

keeping records? for how long? (1, Interesting)

StripedCow (776465) | about 4 years ago | (#31908646)

Amazon is arguing that the records of what books, music, and videos its customers bought deserve enhanced protection.

Aren't companies obliged to purge these records after some time, just like say, google, is obliged to purge search records?
I sure hope they are...

Re:keeping records? for how long? (2, Insightful)

glwtta (532858) | about 4 years ago | (#31908746)

Aren't companies obliged to purge these records after some time, just like say, google, is obliged to purge search records?

Don't think I've heard of that. I'm pretty sure, at best, there are limits on how long they are required to keep the records.

Re:keeping records? for how long? (2, Insightful)

amaiman (103647) | about 4 years ago | (#31908818)

Not that I'm aware of. If it is a requirement (and I've never heard that it is), they're certainly not doing it. I can see my Amazon purchases on my order history page going back to 1999 (when I started shopping there.)

Re:keeping records? for how long? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31909186)

On my Kindle account, a record of my purchases is kept, and if I accidentally re-order something (there are an awful lot of Agatha Christie books), a flag comes up informing me that I already have that one.

One click taxation (2, Funny)

Alain Williams (2972) | about 4 years ago | (#31908826)

Maybe NC ought to patent ''One Click Taxation'' and charge the other 49 states to use it - that would be a nice little earner for them and might solve their budget balancing problems.

Re:One click taxation (4, Insightful)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | about 4 years ago | (#31909108)

Heh heh. Funny, but the truth is that more money never solves the problems caused by waste. It only encourages it.

Political tool (5, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | about 4 years ago | (#31908848)

The CNet article mentions the Video Privacy Protection Act [epic.org] but not the events leading up to it. The Slashdot summary, of course, doesn't mention it at all except vaguely that the videos "deserve enhanced protection".

In 1987, the Washington City Paper, a paper from the left, published [theamericanporch.com] the video rental history of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, from the right. There was next to no dirt found, but it wasn't for lack of self-admitted trying. It was a politically motivated stunt, and they were desperate to find X-rated rentals or even just a penchant for a particular actress of the day.

By revealing detailed media purchases to a government, it gives the incumbents the opportunity to smear political challengers.

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