Bray Case Twist Focuses on Online Privacy Issue

Defense Lawyers Seek Alleged Victim's Google Search Records

BEND, Ore. - It's something many of us do every day: use Google to search for something online. But how private are your search records? A prominent local case involving rape charges against Thomas Bray was back in court Friday, and a ruling by the judge could have you thinking twice the next time you go online.

"Here we have a woman that was brutally raped by the defendant, is clearly the victim of crime, and she has a set of rights," Deschutes County Deputy District Attorney Brigid Turner argued before Circuit Judge Michael Adler.

Bray, accused of rape by two women, was back in court. But this time, the court arguments could impact your online privacy.

"They are fishing, and they can't even get to the river," Turner said of defense lawyer Stephen Houze of Portland and his associates. "They can't even get to the river, because it's protected by a federal statute."

Bray's defense has requested copies of a victim's Google search records.

"These are not trivial matters. These are matters that go to the heart of the defense's case," Houze said.

But prosecutors argued that the victim has a right, under Oregon's Victims Bill of Rights, to keep those records private.

"Google is merely her storage shed for her own personal information," Turner argued.

The judge disagreed, ordering the DA's office to try to get the victim's Google records.

But Google said: not so fast.

"(They) said no -- under the (federal) Electronics Communications Privacy Act, this information that you are seeking is protected, the only way you can get it is by consent of the account-holder, who is the victim in this case," said Turner.

In the short term, the matter could delay the case involving Bray.

But for you, if you are ever a victim, this could set a standard about your online search records.

"The defendant is entitled to it," Houze said.

The Oregon Victims Bill of Rights was updated in 2008. In essence, those changes gave victims the right to challenge issues themselves. They also gave the victim the right to deny providing personal and protected materials.

Since the law was updated, only one case has been heard by the Oregon Supreme Court. That?s left little precedent for the courts to reference as of yet.

Google's refusal to release the records, citing the federal law, could push that part of the Bray case out of Oregon courts and into federal court.

The legal issue means that this case is not just putting Bray on trial, but also the alleged victim's right to keep her Internet activity to herself.

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