The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) have filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Airbnb's petition to set aside a sweeping New York State Attorney General subpoena that demands information about virtually all Airbnb users who make real estate available for rent in the state. In the brief filed Friday, EFF and CDT highlight both the overreaching nature of the subpoena as well as the critical need for courts to carefully review government efforts to indiscriminately sweep up information about large numbers of Internet users.
In October, NY State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a sweeping subpoena seeking identification, financial, and other information on effectively all New York Airbnb "Hosts," those users offering living space for rent. The attorney general explained in later legal filings that he was seeking such information because he believed that some of Airbnb's Hosts had violated state occupancy and tax laws. However, the subpoena sought information about all Hosts that offered accommodations in New York from 2010 to the present, making no effort to exclude those users who plainly fell outside the laws at issue.
"Indiscriminate subpoenas that seek the identity and other personal information of thousands of Internet users without specific justification are improper and should be quashed," EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman said. "It is not enough for the state to speculate that some Airbnb users might have broken some law at some unknown point. An online service's users deserve to be protected from fishing expeditions like this one."
In the brief, EFF and CDT discuss how broad subpoenas to Internet intermediaries such as Airbnb are particularly concerning as users whose information is sought ordinarily have little practical ability to challenge such subpoenas, even if they are unlawful. They further argue that, while Airbnb's efforts to block the subpoena are commendable in this instance, users should not have to rely on companies to defend against government overreach and courts should themselves play an active, skeptical role holding the government to task.
"Just because the technology collects the data and makes it easy to disclose doesn't mean the government is entitled to it all," said Gregory T. Nojeim, director of CDT's Project on Freedom, Security and Technology. "Whether it's a secret application from the NSA or a subpoena from a state official, courts need to reject or substantially narrow bulk data demands from government officials."
For more information, including original case documents please click here.