By Kassity Liu
Amazon Files Lawsuit to Protect Consumer Privacy
On April 19, 2010, online retailer Amazon.com filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina Department of Revenue (DOR), asking a federal judge to preempt the DOR’s request for detailed information on consumers’ purchases from the company’s website. CNET and Ars Technica reported that Amazon is pushing back because it believes the DOR’s request violates consumers’ rights under the First Amendment and the Video Privacy Protection Act. In its complaint, Amazon argues that there is “no discernible need” for state tax collectors to know the specific items consumers purchase on its website, stating that the information that Amazon has already handed over — a list of items and “the ZIP code to which the item[s] were shipped” — is sufficient to determine whether the company is in compliance with the state’s tax laws. Amazon fears that full disclosure of consumers’ purchase options would “chill the exercise of customers’ expressive choices” and reduce the company’s overall sales. However, the DOR may consider this information necessary for identifying “residents [who] are skirting paying their sales taxes” on Amazon items, which are subject to state use taxes.
Google Introduces the Government Requests Tool, Paving the Way for Increased Transparency
On April 20, 2010, Wired and the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported the launch of Google’s new feature, the Government Requests Tool. The tool discloses the number of times that individual governments around the world have asked Google to remove content from its websites for reasons other than copyright violations, as well as the number of user information requests. Though far from complete — it does not report some user information requests such as those tied to national security investigations and lacks information on “the number of people named in the requests, whether Google fought the request, or which products the requests apply to” — Google suggests the tool “will add to the long-running debate about how much power law enforcement and governments should have to see what citizens do online.”
First Draft of ACTA Released, Revealing Measures Intended to Curb Online Piracy
On April 21, 2010, Ars Technica reported the release of the first official draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that ACTA, which originally had been portrayed as an effort to prevent the circulation of physical counterfeit goods, now extends more broadly to cover copyright and the Internet. The ACTA draft contains a number of provisions that extend “beyond those agreed in the 1994 Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property and the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty and Performances and Phonograms Treaty.” First, Internet service providers or Internet intermediaries around the world would be obligated to adopt policies that “address the unauthorized storage or transmission of materials protected by copyright.” This would encourage countries to require that ISPs engage in measures such as Internet disconnection and website blocking to address piracy. Second, the United States’ DMCA technical protection measures (TPM) legal framework would apply globally. This would impose a ban on TPM circumvention and circumvention devices, criminalizing even some otherwise fair uses. Third, criminal sanctions may extend to cover a wide range of non-commercial activities under the ACTA’s “broad definition of ‘commercial scale’.” Previous leaks of the ACTA and bracketed areas in the draft indicate that a number of disagreements still exist between the negotiating countries, thus the treaty terms are likely to change in the upcoming months.