Here we go again. Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is the latest company to face a government subpoena for information into its customers' habits. Luckily for the company and its customers, it's managed to foil this particular probe in court.

Apparently, the federal government requested Amazon's records concerning consumers who bought books from Robert B. D'Angelo, under investigation for tax evasion and mail fraud. In connection with that investigation, it sought records of 24,000 used books D'Angelo sold through Amazon over a four-year period.

Wisconsin judge Stephen Crocker cited the First Amendment in his ruling. He warned of the ramifications to e-commerce if consumers feared for the privacy, whether those fears were founded or not. An "Orwellian" investigation, Crocker ruled, would "frost keyboards" and spur "blogger outrage."

Crocker suggested instead that Amazon contact its customers, allowing them to volunteer to participate. Instead, the FBI rescinded its request. USA Today reported that the prosecutors said they had found the information they needed on one of D'Angelo's seized computers, leading Crocker to criticize them for not discovering such alternatives before pushing at Amazon.

Privacy on the Internet is a thorny subject. Many consumers are willing to trade a little privacy for a better user experience, such as useful recommendations from companies like Amazon, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), or Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). Obviously, companies have to know what our consumption habits are, and what types of products we like, to make such suggestions with any sort of accuracy.

However, governmental snooping into e-commerce companies' records is a serious concern. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) quite rightly fought back when the government attempted to mine search terms plugged into its search engine. And Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) has faced scrutiny for turning over information on a journalist to the Chinese government. The reporter was subsequently imprisoned, supposedly for leaking state secrets.

Fortunately for consumers' peace of mind, Judge Crocker recognized the ramifications of the U.S. government's latest probe. That's good for e-commerce companies, too. Completely anonymous e-commerce does make it harder for shoppers to find useful information and products, but there's still a fine line between OK and Orwellian.

Further fully anonymous Foolishness:

Amazon.com, Netflix, and Yahoo! are all Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. To find out what other companies David and Tom Gardner have recommended to subscribers, take a 30-day test drive.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy respects your privacy.