Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NJ Supreme Court Rules for Internet Privacy...

Are people entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy when surfing online?

The skeptical side of many of us tend to think that we don't have much privacy online, and that someone - whether government agencies or private companies - are probably tracking our activities. As Sun Microsystems CEO famously declared years ago, "You already have no privacy. Get over it".

However, the question is whether people are ENTITLED to internet privacy, and in addressing that question, the New Jersey Supreme Court has just ruled that surfers do have a right to privacy online.

Writing for the court, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said: "We now hold that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy protected by Article I ... of the New Jersey Constitution, in the subscriber information they provide to Internet service providers -- just as New Jersey citizens have a privacy interest in their bank records stored by banks and telephone billing records kept by phone companies."

Barber said most people use the internet like a phone, making personal -- sometimes sensitive -- transactions that they don't believe the police will be able to access.

The bottom line is that law enforcement officials will need a grand jury warrant to obtain access to people's private information. "The unanimous seven-member court held that police do have the right to seek a user's private information when investigating a crime involving a computer, but must follow legal procedures. The court said authorities do not have to warn a suspect that they have a grand jury subpoena to obtain the information."

This ruling is a highly positive, and desperately needed, development in the movement to strengthen individual privacy rights. It is also very reasonable, recognizing that law enforcement will still reserve the right to fully investigate cybercrime allegations. They will just need a warrant to access people's private information, rather than having a blanket, unfettered ability to do so.

Repercussions of this decision could potentially be far-reaching, as it may affect everything from the enforcement of digital copyright laws to IP-tracking software to individual Google searches.

At least in principle, the Supreme Court of the great state of New Jersey ought to be applauded for its even-handed, thoughtful approach.


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