Commentary

Judge Rules ISP Subscribers Have No Expectation Of Privacy, Allows Filmmakers To Unmask P2P File Sharers

A federal judge has okayed independent filmmakers' attempts to unmask thousands of Web users who allegedly downloaded movies from peer-to-peer networks.

In a ruling issued late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington ruled that the Web users can't quash subpoenas to their ISPs because subscribers don't have a "cognizable claim of privacy in their subscriber information."

Collyer reasoned that Web users have no reasonable expectation of privacy in their data because "they already have conveyed such information to their Internet Service Providers."

Many judges have allowed companies or other plaintiffs in lawsuits to subpoena ISPs and other Web companies for users' names when there is good reason to do so, but Collyer's rationale in this case -- that subscribers have no expectation of privacy because they gave their names to an ISP when registering for an account -- isn't universally accepted.

advertisement

advertisement

Consider, two years ago the New Jersey Supreme Court said the exact opposite. "We now hold that citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy ... in the subscriber information they provide to internet service providers -- just as New Jersey citizens have a privacy interest in their bank records stored by banks and telephone billing records kept by companies," the court wrote in a unanimous decision.

That reasoning doesn't mean that subscriber information can never be disclosed -- only that those who are attempting to discover such information must show they are entitled to obtain it. In fact, in the New Jersey case the court said that police must obtain subpoenas from grand juries, and not municipal courts, when attempting to learn the identities of ISP users.

But the New Jersey court's decision, in contrast to Collyer's, recognizes that people who go online aren't voluntarily and knowingly giving up all privacy simply by signing up for Web service.

4 comments about "Judge Rules ISP Subscribers Have No Expectation Of Privacy, Allows Filmmakers To Unmask P2P File Sharers ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Janis Mccabe from jmod35, September 13, 2010 at 8:45 p.m.

    Collyer's wrong, wrong, wrong. If a policeman happens to know my information and someone who "wants" me tells them they want my info, a person I don't even know, are the police obliged to give my phone number and address to the pervert? I don't think so. Is my credit card company obliged to give my information to anyone who asks? I sure as heck hope not.

    Collyer's just completely wrong. And, btw, I don't download movies in case you believe I'm defending myself (and/or you) for that reason.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 13, 2010 at 8:57 p.m.

    Another example of judges (and others) have no clear understanding of what they are doing and what the ramifications are. This is a whole new world where law makers will need an additional year in law school.

  3. Sam Jones from Some Company, September 14, 2010 at 10:45 a.m.

    We must always watch out for these kinds of infringements on our privacy. We must take the steps to protect ourselves.

    Don't leave data on others' servers, if you don't need to. Using Gmail, for example, leaves your email on Google's servers. Better to use TrulyMail (works with gmail) or PGP to encrypt your messages so even if someone reads your messages, they only get the encrypted version and can't see what you said.

  4. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, September 15, 2010 at 5:36 a.m.

    Is this idiot judge a Republican or Democrat? Someone please look that up. I just found out, after being "happy" for a few minutes that a Tea Party candidate won in Delaware, that she's probably still a staunch social conservative instead...the opposite of what the Tea Party was supposed to stand for. We think we know what party to vote for and then we get betrayed anyway.

Next story loading loading..