The Arizona Court of Appeals has ruled that residents have a constitutional right to online privacy that goes above what they have under the U.S. Constitution. For that, they can thank the Arizona Constitution, which says: “No person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.” The fact that Arizonans’ rights go beyond the federal Fourth Amendment is very relevant in these days when so much of our lives is recorded electronically.
The specifics involve whether law enforcement and government agencies need a warrant to obtain information. The current federal interpretation of that says that when customers provide information to a third party, they lose the expectation of privacy. Not so, says the Arizona appellate court. Judge Karl Eppich, writing for the court’s majority, said, “In the internet era, the electronic storage capacity of third parties has in many cases replaced the personal desk drawer as the repository of sensitive personal and business information — information that would unquestionably be protected from warrantless government searches if on a paper desk at a home or office.” He also said, “The user provides the information for the limited purpose of obtaining service.”
Of course, there generally is an important reason for such searches. However, the agencies have an ability to get a warrant if there is any evidence of criminal behavior.
The case in question involved a child pornography sting in Pima County. A man’s Internet Protocol address was obtained by an administrative subpoena.
Investigations will become more difficult in some cases, yet the means exists to obtain warrants signed off on by a judge.
Today’s world leaves people quite vulnerable to hacking and loss of privacy, although the electronic environment does have many advantages of convenience. Protecting us and our rights is something that needs continued attention, and the Arizona court’s ruling contributes in a significant way.