• NJ Court Requires Subpoena for Internet User Data
  • June 11, 2008
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that a valid subpoena is needed for Internet service providers to disclose personal information about their subscribers.

    In its decision dated April 21, the court ruled that the New Jersey constitution provides its residents with more protection against unreasonable searches and seizures than the U.S. Constitution.

    A lawyer representing the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, among other groups that filed amicus briefs in the case, said it was the first ruling in the country to recognize a reasonable expectation of privacy for Internet users.

    The 7-0 decision affirmed lower court rulings that constrained police from learning the identity of an employee accused of retaliating after an argument with her supervisor by altering the supervisor’s access codes to a supplier’s Web site.  Police obtained the employee’s identity through her Internet service provider, Comcast Corporation, by tracing her computer’s Internet protocol address, which only Comcast could identify.

    A municipal court issued a subpoena for the data, but higher courts found that a grand jury subpoena was needed because an indictable offense was involved.  Accordingly, the New Jersey Supreme Court threw out the employee’s 2005 indictment on a charge of theft by computer, although it ruled that prosecutors could continue to seek the information via a grand jury subpoena.