NJ Court Denies Dog Owners’ Privacy Rights (But Appears to Recognize Privacy Rights of Dogs)

September 20, 2021

The New Jersey Supreme Court today decided that dog owners in the state do not have a colorable claim to privacy in their names and addresses—but there may be a privacy interest in the names and breeds of their dogs. The case, Bozzi v. City of Jersey City, asked whether the privacy exemption to the state’s freedom of information law required government agencies to withhold the names and addresses of dog license holders when the only justification for disclosure was commercial interest in selling dog paraphernalia. EPIC filed an amicus brief and presented oral argument in the case, arguing that the privacy interests in names and addresses in government documents is well established under federal law and the state should follow the federal example. The court’s majority found no colorable claim to privacy for dog owners because “owning a dog is, inherently, a public endeavor”—owners take their dogs on “daily walks, grooming sessions, veterinarian visits,” “celebrate their animals on social media or bumper stickers” and “enter their dogs into public shows.” But, as the two dissenting justices retorted, “dog owners appearing in public with their dogs do not do so while simultaneously advertising their full names and addresses.” Further undermining the majority’s reasoning was the court’s recognition that other information in the dog license record—such as the name and breed of the dog, which is exposed to the public to the same degree as dog ownership, and moreso than the names and addresses of owners—may need to be redacted because of the privacy interests at stake. EPIC routinely participates as amicus in cases involving involuntary disclosure of personal information to third parties.

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