New Jersey’s intermediate appellate court issued an interesting informational-privacy ruling this week. Reported in the Star-Ledger, and the CourierPost Online, the court held in State of New Jersey v Reid that Shirley Reid’s use of a screen name that hid her identity created a “legitimate and substantial interest in anonymity” that supported Reid’s motion to suppress. Reid was charged with computer-related theft after her employer accused her of breaking into its computer system and changing its shipping address. Attempting to penetrate the anonymous screen name linked to the break-in, police had a Municipal Court administrator issue a subpoena to Comcast. In response Comcast linked the screen name to Reid, who was then charged with the crime. The court held the subpoena was invalid because the crime under investigation was not within that court’s jurisdiction, and thus not issued in connection with a judicial proceeding as required by NJ law.
The appellate court affirmed that this unauthorized search constituted an unlawful search and seizure. Its decision rests on a right to privacy grounded in the New Jersey constitution, which “has been expanded to areas not afforded such protection under the Fourth Amendment.” Reid’s choice of an anonymous screen name manifested a reasonable expectation that only Comcast knew her identity, creating a privacy interest that “is both legitimate and substantial.” The state prosecutor has not decided whether to appeal this ruling to the New Jersey Supreme Court.