American Civil Liberties Union v. Miller
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ACLU v. Zell Miller was a court case in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in 1997 between the ACLU, along with other parties, and then Georgia governor, Zell Miller.
The Georgia General Assembly passed legislation that eliminated rights to privacy when using the internet in the State of Georgia. Governor Zell Miller signed the legislation into law in April 1996. Several internet based groups that guaranteed privacy to their users sought to have the law overturned on constitutional grounds, and enlisted the support of civil liberties groups such as the ACLU.
The language of this act in question was as follows:
- "It shall be unlawful for any person, any organization, or any representative of any organization knowingly to transmit any data through a computer network or over the transmission facilities or through the network facilities of a local telephone network for the purpose of setting up, maintaining, operating, or exchanging data with an electronic mailbox, home page, or any other electronic information storage bank or point of access to electronic information if such data uses any individual name, trade name, registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted symbol to falsely identify the person, organization, or representative transmitting such data or which would falsely state or imply that such person, organization, or representative has permission or is legally authorized to use such trade name, registered trademark, logo, legal or official seal, or copyrighted symbol for such purpose when such permission or authorization has not been obtained; provided, however, that no telecommunications company or Internet access provider shall violate this Code section solely as a result of carrying or transmitting such data for its customers."
The plaintiffs reminded the court that no one owns the internet, since it is a decentralized medium of communication between several parties and persons around the world. To impose this regulation would therefore be overstepping the scope of Georgia law, since the state did not have authority over the entity of the internet.
In addition, the forceful public disclosure of internet users was said to violate basic civil liberties to privacy and would be revealing sensitive information of users who did not wish to make their identities public. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality to this act in its entirety. The defendant sought dismissal but was denied this motion.
After the plaintiff could prove likelihood of success of merits, substantial threat of irreparable injury, balance of hardships, and the promotion of the public interest, the court awarded the plaintiff with a preliminary injunction. Thus the defendant was enjoined from enforcing the newly passed act and was forced to revoke it. This act was found to be unconstitutional and in violation of the Bill of Rights.
This case established the right to privacy of internet users and guaranteed the protection of basic rights while on the internet. It was established that the government does not have oversight or authority over the internet and thus cannot necessarily make mandates for it.
- "ACLU v. Miller Complaint". ACLU.org. ACLU. Sep 24, 1996.
- "Federal District Court Decision in ACLU v. Miller". ACLU.org. ACLU. Jun 20, 1997.