NJ court rules ISP info confidential without subpoena

Personal information on the state's citizens cannot be released without a court order, the state Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

New Jersey's constitution provides greater protection on unreasonable searches and seizures than the US Constitution does. Anyone looking for the data, including law enforcement, needs to obtain a subpoena.

The unanimous ruling came as part of a Cape May County woman's case who retaliated against her boss in 2004 by changing the passwords to a supplier's Web site following an argument.

Police then obtained her identity through records with her internet provider, Comcast. While a subpoena was obtained in municipal court, higher courts said it could not be enforced unless issued by a grand jury due to an indictable offense. The Supreme Court agreed.

The woman was charged with theft, however unless the prosecutors can prove their case without the information, the charges will be dropped. This does not prevent the prosecutors from attempting to obtain the information again under the new ruling.

Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor vowed to both seek a grand jury subpoena and new indictment.

Supporters of the woman, including the ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, applauded the court's move and said it was one of the first to ensure tighter privacy when dealing with personal information.

Others said the case was indicative of a broader trend toward protecting ISP data which is occurring across the US, although varying by degrees.

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