A convicted Georgia sex offender is spearheading an effort to prevent media companies like Yahoo, Myspace and Comcast from honoring search warrants from out-of-state law enforcement, claiming in a Manhattan federal lawsuit that they violate the companies’ privacy policies and federal wiretapping laws.
Cory Hubbard, 34, who was convicted in 2008 of using Myspace to lure a 13-year-old girl to a motel, claims that the California-based social networking site violated federal Internet privacy and wiretapping laws by responding to a warrant signed by a county magistrate in Georgia, according to the suit.
Hubbard’s lawyers argue that the Georgia writ had no authority in California and that Myspace was not compelled to release the information, but did so voluntarily.
Three other federal lawsuits have been filed by two women in Georgia claiming that Yahoo, Comcast Cable and Windstream, a broadband provider, all violated their customers’ civil rights by releasing information to police without authorization.
“Big Brother needs to jump through certain hoops,” said Joshua Millican, the lawyer who is behind the Hubbard litigation. “Otherwise we have no protection.”
Hubbard, who is currently serving 10 years in a Georgia state prison for his offense, and his lawyers are clearly hoping to cash in.
Although no dollar amount was named in the Myspace suit, Robert Harwood, the lawyer working on the case in New York with Millican, said the damages could be “quite substantial.” In the case against Yahoo, which lawyers are hoping will receive class action status, the plaintiffs estimate at least $10,000 each in damages.
“We think this happens pretty much all the time,” said Millican of the alleged Internet privacy violations. In fact, a Comcast representative testified in an affidavit that private data on 36,771 customers has been turned over to law enforcement in the last four years.
Cherokee County District Attorney Gary Moss, who prosecuted Hubbard, said his agency did nothing wrong by faxing the writ to the Los Angeles–based company. “These are not matters covered under the Fourth Amendment,” said Moss. “He has no privacy on what he’s given to a third party. It’s no different than giving your diary to a third party, and they turn it over to law enforcement. There’s no violation.”
Windstream and Comcast spokesmen said that their respective companies properly complied with the law enforcement warrant while balancing their customers’ privacy.
Myspace and Yahoo did not respond to a request for comment.
Contact Joshua A. Millican