The ACLU is fighting to protect the rights of customers. In a lawsuit filed in Seattle Wednesday, it argued that requests by the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR) for information about customers' personal information are unconstitutional because they violate Internet users' rights to free speech, anonymity, and privacy. The lawsuit joins an existing lawsuit filed by Amazon in April to stop NCDOR from collecting personal records that could be linked to specific purchases on Amazon.

Brian Alseth, director of ACLU of Washington’s Technology and Liberty Project, says that the First Amendment protects the rights of all individuals to read books, watch films and buy things without the government “keeping tabs on what they choose to read, watch, or purchase,” online or at a store.

NCDOR Public Affairs Director Beth Stevenson says that the department has learned of a motion filed by the ACLU and its legal counsel is currently reviewing the document.

The ACLU filed the case on behalf of six anonymous North Carolina residents and Cecil Bothwell, an elected public official, who have purchased books and movies on alcoholism, LGBT issues, divorce, mental health, and religious beliefs. One of them, a law student, has received politically charged books from her parents such as the “Obama Zombies: How The Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation,” by Jason Mattera. She feels that her career in law might be jeopardized if her personal beliefs become public. Bothwell, a writer and publisher who has bought and sold potentially controversial books on Amazon, is an atheist, something his political opponents have attacked since his election. A provision in the North Carolina Constitution seeks to prohibit anyone who “shall deny the being of Almighty God” from holding public office.

More after the jump.

According to the lawsuit filed by Amazon in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, NCDOR asked Amazon for the purchase records since August 2003 of customers with a North Carolina shipping address as part of a tax audit of Amazon.

In the lawsuit, Amazon claims that it has already provided NCDOR with product codes that reveal the exact items purchased. Amazon's complaint says it withheld user information that could be linked back to the individual purchases, including "names and addresses,” but NCDOR refused to agree that it was not entitled to this information. After Amazon filed the lawsuit, the DOR told media outlets that that it didn’t request specific product information from Amazon, and that it doesn’t need such detailed information about the products, the ACLU lawsuit claims. ACLU’s lawsuit argues that “despite those public statements, DOR is still in possession of this detailed product information that it concedes it does not need. Upon information and belief, DOR has now indicated that it is willing to return the information to Amazon, but only in exchange for additional product information, even though DOR has conceded that there is no legitimate reason or need for DOR to retain this detailed information.”

The ACLU wrote to North Carolina Secretary of Revenue Kenneth Lay in May threatening legal action if NCDOR kept persisting for “constitutionally-protected information.”

Lay says, “the department has stated in the past and reiterates that at no time has the Department of Revenue asked for book or CD titles because that information is not needed to assess tax owed to the State. We ask only for product type in order to determine the correct tax liability.” Lay added that "frankly, we are surprised the ACLU seeks to intervene since, in our conversation with them, we clearly reiterated that we were not seeking the information they find objectionable. We also find it ironic that, while they purport to protect their customers’ privacy rights, they have at the same time asked the Department to divulge confidential taxpayer information.”