Feds withdraw subpoena seeking Amazon records
Market Watch
By Benjamin Pimentel,
November 27, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Federal prosecutors withdrew a subpoena of Amazon.com's records of customers who purchased used books after a Wisconsin judge warned that "rumors of an Orwellian" probe could "frost keyboards across America."

The U.S. Attorney's Office had asked for Amazon.com's records in August 2006 as part of a grand jury probe of Robert B. D'Angelo who was being investigated for tax evasion and mail fraud in connection with his sale of about 24,000 books over four years through Amazon's Web site to third-party buyers, according to court records, copies of which were provided by Amazon.com.

The U.S. Attorney's Office withdrew the grand jury's subpoena in July after Judge Stephen Crocker of the U.S. District Court in western Wisconsin, expressed concerns about the government move.

D'Angelo was indicted in October, and the judge unsealed documents related to the Amazon subpoena this month.

"If word were to spread over the Net -- and it would -- that the FBI and the IRS had demanded and received Amazon's list of customers and their personal purchases, the chilling effect on expressive e-commerce would frost keyboards across America," Crocker wrote in June.

Crocker added: "Fiery rhetoric quickly would follow and the nuances of the subpoena would be lost as the cyberdebate roiled itself to a furious boil. One might ask whether this court should concern itself with blogger outrage disproportionate to the government's actual demand of Amazon. The logical answer is yes, it should."

That's because the government subpoena would send a disturbing message to book buyers, he added.

"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, now and perhaps forever," Crocker wrote.

Benjamin Pimentel is a MarketWatch reporter based in San Francisco.

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