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Retail tax law is complicated. It gets even more complicated when an Internet retailer based in one state sells products to customers in another state. Who pays the state sales taxes, and to which state government do they go? Privacy issues are also at stake. Do Internet retailers have to disclose their customers' information to state tax collectors, or is that protected privacy? These are among the questions at hand in a complex legal dispute between North Carolina and Amazon, which is based in Seattle. After the state audited Amazon, the company responded by filing a complaint in federal court that the audit was a privacy violation. The New York Times' Noam Cohen explains the bigger stakes:

The case offers a glimpse at the changed landscape of privacy in the United States. Under the old model, the law was meant to protect the public from a snooping government. And the government was generally the only entity with the resources to snoop on people in a systematic way.

Today, the online snooping (make that “data collection”) never stops. Can the old tools really prevent the government from closely monitoring its people when so much information is a mere Internet search away? And is the government the one we really need protection from?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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