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Newly unsealed court records have revealed that the U.S. government issued a subpoena to Amazon.com seeking to obtain the identities of customers purchasing books through the Amazon marketplace. The snooping attempt was blocked by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker who wrote in a recently-unsealed 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."
Federal prosecutors issued the subpoena last year as part of a grand jury investigation into a former Madison official who was a prolific seller of used books on Amazon.com. They were looking for buyers who could be witnesses in the case.
The official, Robert D'Angelo, was indicted last month on fraud, money laundering and tax evasion charges. Prosecutors said he ran a used book business out of his city office and did not report the income. He has pleaded not guilty.
D'Angelo sold books through the Amazon Marketplace feature, and buyers paid Amazon, which took a commission.
"We didn't care about the content of what anybody read. We just wanted to know what these business transactions were," prosecutor Vaudreuil said Tuesday. "These were simply business records we were seeking to prove the case of fraud and tax crimes against Mr. D'Angelo."