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Federal Magistrate Has Read Constitution

I know this is rare, but apparently there are still a few Federal Magistrates out in the hinterlands who have actually read the US Constitution and thinks it’s important.

The Associated Press reports Feds retreat on Amazon buyers’ identities

MADISON, Wisconsin – U.S. prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena seeking the identities of thousands of people who bought used books through online retailer Amazon.com Inc., newly unsealed court records show.

The withdrawal came after a judge ruled the customers have a 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.

“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 city official who was a prolific seller of used books on Amazon.com. They were looking for buyers who could be witnesses in the case.

Prosecutors said they obtained the customer information they needed from a computer seized from D’Angelo earlier in the investigation.

Crocker scolded prosecutors in July for not looking for alternatives earlier. Vaudreuil said computer analysts initially failed to recover the information.

“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.

This case was predicated on possible tax evasion and public corruption, a man running a used bookstore from his public office and not reporting the income. It has nothing to do with terrorism, but that PATRIOT Act is just too handy to just ignore.

The situation with Robert D’Angelo is not at all like the non-case of Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, former head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who was running a “horse-racing operation” with government resources and wasn’t charged with anything.

2 comments

1 Fallenmonk { 11.28.07 at 5:06 am }

Nice to see someone sticking up for our constitutional rights. There are hundreds of cases of the the Feds using the Patriot Act powers to violate our rights. Hopefully, this is a trend.

2 Bryan { 11.28.07 at 10:40 am }

This was just too egregious to ignore, I’m sure there’s a lot of this going on that never makes the light of day because of the gag orders that accompany these requests. The judge had to unseal this warrant, which means that Amazon wasn’t allowed to talk about it.

Kudos to Amazon for not just rolling over.