N.J. Supreme Court/Amicus

Grayson Barber, Esq.

On April 21, 2008, in a case of first impression, the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized citizens' right to privacy in anonymous web activity. The court held that police must obtain a proper grand jury subpoena in order to obtain subscriber information from Internet Service Providers. In the case, the police obtained Shirley Reid's identity and personal information by issuing a subpoena to her Internet Service Provider, without providing notice to Shirley Reid (as is required in civil cases) and without obtaining some form of court approval (such as a grand jury subpoena). The ACLU-NJ, along with numerous other privacy-rights and free speech organizations, explained that citizens have a right to privacy in their computer subscriber information and communications over the web to the same extent as they have in bank records or phone calls. The brief further explains the significance of the right to speak anonymously and that the United States Supreme Court has already held that the First Amendment right to free speech extends to the Internet. As stated in the brief: "It is a fact of modern life that in the digital age, a great deal of personal communication occurs over the Internet . . . Yet this fact of modern life must not be permitted to erode privacy and speech rights." The other signatories to the friend-of-the-court brief were the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Freedom to Read Foundation, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and New Jersey Library Association.