U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Court Footnotes 'Internet' v. 'internet' Dilemma in Privacy Matter

The civil rights case of a man alleging a violation of his right to privacy against Verizon is notable for a couple reasons. But the Alexander v. Verizon matter might not be getting as much attention for the substantive part of the case, but rather for an interesting footnote.

First off, there is actually an interesting legal case that involves not-so-emerging technology and how it is now used by law enforcement, and whether service providers can be liable for bad police work.

Secondly, the case contains that rather loaded footnote discussing the great online debate of whether the word internet should be capitalized, or not, and when.

Details of the Case

As the Fifth Circuit noted, the Alexander case started as a criminal matter. A few years ago, Matthew Alexander became a suspect in an arson investigation. The building that was set ablaze belonged to a former employer Alexander had brought a legal action against. The former employer provided the police with Alexander's address, and cell phone number. The detective on the case then went directly to Verizon to obtain Alexander's whereabouts spanning a couple days before the incident to the date the request was fulfilled. Verizon approved the request for information under their "exigent circumstances" policy and did not require a warrant.

As a result of that evidence, Alexander was arrested and charged. However, the trial judge granted a motion to suppress this evidence as illegally obtained without a warrant. Though the criminal case is ongoing, Alexander filed a civil suit against Verizon alleging various statutory privacy breaches. The case against Verizon was dismissed by a district court based upon the fact that the company acted in good faith fulfilling the officer's request. The Fifth Circuit did not disturb the lower court's ruling, but did discuss the matter at length, raising many interesting points, including one that is a fan favorite: the "Internet" v. "internet" capitalization debate.

Details of the Footnote

In footnote 12, the court explains that popular culture's reasons for shifting from the capital "I" in internet, to the lowercase, is rubbish. Basically, the court explains that it is done to save a keystroke and because everyone else is doing it. Neither rationale was convincing to the court. While the court recognizes that the difference also reflects the difference between THE Internet (that is the interconnected World Wide Web) and local, smaller "internets," it clearly states that the term should be capitalized.

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