Saturday, May 1, 2010
Amazon vs North Carolina
We all know State governments are hurting for revenue these days. I can't blame them for looking for some Mother-Lode of unpaid taxes. Those of us who shop online know the major online retailers who don't also have a brick and mortar store somewhere usually let us off without charging sales taxes. Amazon is very likely the biggest fish out there. I have shopped on Amazon for over 10 years. (Yikes!) And now time is coming to pay up.
Amazon has already provided the NC Department of Revenue the list of customers and what they paid Amazon since 2003. I shop frequently on Amazon, and I have no problem with that. I expect they will send me a bill for back sales taxes. The books and assorted stuff that I have bought wouldn't surprise anybody reading this, and would not raise any eyebrows anywhere.
The flak around the internet is about a potential witch-hunt by every state needing additional tax funds, and the violation of First Amendment rights by any State seeking a list of the items purchased by every Amazon customer living in the State. So Amazon is suing to keep that list of items private.
I haven't seen any article that mentions the issue of public information. I won't claim to be an expert on the Public Information Laws, but my prior responsibility as custodian of data within the State of NC tells me that any data collected by any State agency, unless it is exempt by law (Health records, certain personnel records, and a few other exemptions), is public information.
Even before every agency had a website for delivery of commonly requested public information, they had to deliver, or provide to anybody who made a proper request. The requester might have to pay a fee to cover the cost of collection and delivery, but if it's public, any John or Jane Doe (or more likely News Reporter) could ask and expect to receive. In an election year you can count on the local News and Disturber doing an Exposé of certain elected or appointed officials based on public information such as telephone calls and trip expense reports. Now the DOR wants to collect more information about the citizenry's buying habits even when bought with personal funds and used on personal time. Let's see...how many prospective Grand Jury members purchased "The Politician," the John Edwards exposé.
When the DOR sends me the bill for back sales tax, they don't have to cross-reference what I bought. I can look at my Amazon order history and confirm my own purchases for myself. OOPS, I just checked....there goes my 2009 tax refund, they haven't sent me yet.