Judge backs Amazon, chides prosecutors in book-records case

Now if we can just find a judge with enough backbone to tell the government it cannot listen in on our phone calls without a warrant.

Our book-buying habits have been ruled off limits to lazy law-enforcement snoops by U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Crocker, prompting federal prosecutors to abandon their attempt to strong-arm Amazon into coughing up customer records.

From an Associated Press report on newly unsealed court records:

"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.

Amazon, apparently giddy over the prospect of winning one of these battles, expressed a belief in those unsealed records that the judge's ruling would deter other prosecutors from seeking book-buying records.

A number of details made this government abuse of free-speech protections particularly galling - and the result particularly satisfying: First, the criminal case being prosecuted was a dime-a-dozen political corruption caper, hardly the type of crime that can justify such a trampling of the First Amendment; second, the scope of what prosecutors originally sought - 24,000 transactions dating back to 1999 - was ludicrously broad; and, finally, there was the fact that police eventually got the evidence they needed to convict from the suspect's own PC, the path of least resistance that should have been option one.

Let's savor more of the judge's words:

"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."

Now about those phone calls ...

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