[Politech] N.J. couple don't have to hand over PC to snoopy bureaucrats [priv]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Fri Jul 08 2005 - 21:06:50 PDT

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: NJ couple need not turn over computer to public officials
Date: Fri, 08 Jul 2005 17:33:23 -0400
From: Paul Levy <plevy@private>
To: <declan@private>

The Appellate Division in New Jersey has overturned a particularly
obnoxious invasion of civil liberties, reversing a trial court order
that granted a demand by New Jersey public officials for the production
of the hard drives of a couple who had sued them for allegedly taking
excessive benefits from the township in which they held elective office.
  The officials claimed they needed to find out whether the individuals
were responsible for posting derogatory comments on newspaper commentary
bulletin boards, but the court ruled that the identity of the posters
was irrelevant to the issues in the lawsuit and the discovery could
invade privacy.

Paul Alan Levy
Public Citizen Litigation Group
1600 - 20th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 588-1000

>>> Angela Bradbery 07/08/05 05:04PM >>>
For Immediate Release:			July 8, 2005

Paul Alan Levy, Public Citizen (202) 588-1000
  Edward Barocas, ACLU-NJ (973) 642-2086

New Jersey Couple Need Not Turn Over Computer to
Opposing Party in Lawsuit, Appellate Court Rules
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A couple ordered to turn over their computer hard
drive to public officials they sued does not have to give up their
computer after all, a court has ruled.

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey has reversed
a trial judge's May 19 order saying that Scott and Charlene "Charlie"
Uhrmann had to relinquish their hard drive so the officials they sued
could determine whether the Uhrmanns anonymously posted derogatory
statements about the officials on the Internet.

After that ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and
Public Citizen agreed to represent the Uhrmanns in their request for
appellate review of the trial court order. The groups noted that the
hard drive contains financial and other personal information and said
that the order violated free speech and privacy rights as well as
established law on rules of discovery and on anonymous Internet

	In a one-paragraph ruling, the Appellate Division said that the
requested information was beyond the scope of discovery, not relevant to
the case and could lead to the disclosure of personal information.

Charlene and Scott Uhrmann sued a current and a former member of the
Mount Olive town council in January 2005, claiming that, as part-time
officials, they were not entitled to the medical and dental benefits
they received. The Uhrmanns sued to see that the money is returned to
Mount Olive. The officials claim that the Uhrmanns were responsible for
criticisms about them posted in online chat rooms using pseudonyms and
requested the Uhrmanns' hard drives to determine whether the Uhrmanns
wrote the postings.

"This was a fishing expedition by the public officials and a blatant
violation of privacy rights and established law," said Paul Alan Levy of
Public Citizen, who is lead counsel for the Uhrmanns. "We are pleased
that the appellate court recognized that."

Richard Ravin, the ACLU cooperating attorney in the case, said, "This
appellate decision is a warning to all litigants and their attorneys,
and a reminder to judges everywhere, that computer hard drives are not
simply  pieces of tangible property - they contain highly sensitive and
confidential information of individuals and  businesses. A party to a
lawsuit is not entitled to inspect and copy such computer hard drives of
anybody just because they are party to the same suit."
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization
based in Washington, D.C.

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