Federal prosecutors have withdrawn a subpoena seeking the identities of thousands of people who bought used books through online retailer Amazon.com Inc., newly unsealed court records show. The withdrawal came after a judge ruled the customers have a First Amendment right to keep their reading habits from the government. "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.
Seattle-based Amazon said in court documents it hopes Crocker's decision will make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain records involving book purchases. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said Tuesday he doubted the ruling would hamper legitimate investigations.