NJ Recognizes Privacy Right

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.

5 Replies to “NJ Recognizes Privacy Right”

  1. David Randall Post author

    Reid’s right to anonymity is independent of her criminal liability. What student330 articulates is not the law. Courts determine whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a given setting by asking (1) did this person subjectively believe her actions were private and (2) is society prepared to honor a reasonable expectation of privacy in these circumstances. If the answer to both questions is yes, then governmental interference with that privacy raises a Fourth Amendment claim.

    Note also that the court based its decision on the New Jersey constitution, not the Fourth Amendment. On these facts, at least, New Jersey is willing to untether its privacy analysis from Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

  2. student330

    Comcast was not obligated to keep her identity secret because she committed a crime. If Comcast had allowed Reid to keep her anonymity, it would have been partially liable for her crimes. Although anonymity should be kept by Comcast in most cases, crime related cases are an exception. The Internet is already to anonymous as it is and courts needs to set precedent so that criminals cannot take advantage of new technology. Although the fourth amendment protects Reid, this amendment should be interpreted differently with Internet cases. Law is constantly evolving and adapting to new situations, and I believe that this situation calls for new measures. This case should be taken to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. If Reid is allowed to get off scott free, other criminals will try to use the fourth amendment to guarantee their anonymity.

  3. andrewco

    The appellate court here made the right decision. To uphold the norms of what our Founding Fathers had established for us ALL in the Constitution, the courts must uphold these rights.

    If any person or governing body goes beyond the scope of how to “legally” conduct searches and seizures, they are committing a crime against themselves. By going about things the wrong way, they leave the door open for their entire case to get potentially thrown out, even if the convicted person, is drop-dead guilty (as shown in this case). Since the subpoena was issued illegally, the subpoena itself was illegal, and anything to do with the subpoena is illegal. Therefore, Reid is absolved of anything she was convicted of, having to do as a result of that subpoena.

    When you don’t play by the rules, you’ll never win.

  4. David Randall Post author

    The court relied on the fact that the Comcast terms of use gave Reid the option of using an anonymous screen name. The TOS did not promise that Comcast would shield Reid’s identity from inquiries.

  5. jtannhau

    was the protection of Reid’s identity specifically stated in the terms of agreement when she made the screen name? She still comitted a crime….

    also go New Jersey!! the best state everrrr!!!

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