Tuesday, October 18, 2011

HomeAway.Com Sues North Carolina Tax Agency

By Lori Hawkins
Published: 7:19 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011

Austin-based vacation rental website operator HomeAway Inc. has sued North Carolina, accusing the state of violating interstate commerce laws by demanding that HomeAway turn over personal information on customers.
HomeAway filed the lawsuit Wednesday in response to a summons by the North Carolina secretary of revenue demanding that CEO Brian Sharples hand over the customer data today.
The lawsuit asks the Austin division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas for a permanent injunction against David Hoyle, head of North Carolina's Department of Revenue. It also seeks reimbursement for attorneys' fees and other associated costs.
In the lawsuit, HomeAway says North Carolina "has demanded that HomeAway turn over detailed confidential personal information concerning every one of its customers who has advertised vacation rental properties on HomeAway's VRBO.com website over a 5 ½ year period or else risk being held in contempt."
A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Revenue said officials had not been served with the suit and could not comment. The department's summons did not specifically say why it was seeking the information from HomeAway, but it said such data could be used to assess tax liability or to collect taxes.
In an interview Thursday, HomeAway co-founder and chief strategy officer Carl Shepherd said: "We believe our customers' data is private. We don't believe a government has the authority to request that an Internet company turn over its customer list in violation of that individual user's privacy."
Shepherd said HomeAway's terms and conditions require that homeowners who post listings on HomeAway websites comply with all local and regional regulations, including paying taxes.
"This isn't an issue of should owners be paying taxes that are due. We absolutely agree with that," Shepherd said. "It's a fundamental privacy issue."

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