ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of Virginia privacy advocate
Betty Ostergren has a point to make
Computerworld - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia this week filed a federal lawsuit (download PDF) challenging a recently amended state law that prohibits individuals from disseminating public records containing Social Security numbers, even if the records are publicly available to anyone on county government Web sites.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Betty "BJ" Ostergren, a Virginia-based privacy advocate who has been fighting to stop county and state government offices from posting public records containing Social Security numbers and other personal records on their sites. As part of her campaign to publicize the issue, Ostergren has routinely downloaded documents containing Social Security numbers from county Web sites and reposted them on her own site.
Ostergren and the ACLU had previously said that a recent bill amending Virginia's Personal Information Act would do nothing to prevent county governments in the state from posting documents without first redacting Social Security numbers and other sensitive days. Rather, she claimed, the measure seems to have been designed specifically to curtail her campaign to publicize and end that practice.
In a statement announcing its lawsuit, the ACLU said the amended state law is "wrong end up" and only curtails free speech while masking the state's own failure to prevent public records containing Social Security numbers from being posted online.
Rebecca Glenburg, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia, said the Virginia law violates the First Amendment right to free speech.
"Under the First Amendment, people have the right to publish truthful information that is publicly available," she said. "The Supreme Court has held over and over again that when the government chooses to make information public, it can't then punish other people who obtain that information legally and distribute it to others," Glenburg said.
In Ostergren's case, she has been retrieving material made freely available to her by the government and reporting it on her web site. "Punishing her is not going to protect anyone from ID theft, because all the documents on her Web site are also available on county Web sites," she said.
Glenburg cited two cases in which courts have sided with individuals who faced legal problems for publishing truthful information they obtained from public sources. One of the cases involved a Florida newspaper that was sued by a rape victim for publishing her name. In that case, the court ruled that the newspaper had not violated any law because the information had been obtained from a public court record. In another case, an individual who got information on law enforcement officers from public records and then posted that information on his police accountability Web site got the courts to side with him when he challenged a state law aimed at outlawing his practice.
- Clearing the Network Hurdle to Cloud Deployment Although enthusiasm is high among IT pros for cloud services, an IDG Research Quick Poll survey found that, in fact, the cloud is...
- 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant Report For the 7th year in a row, Riverbed is in the "Leaders" Quadrant of the 2014 Magic Quadrant for WAN Optimization Controllers. In...
- Transforming Business Performance with Hybrid Networks IT organizations globally are faced with the challenge to transform network architectures to deliver the right performance and reliability cost-effectively while retaining control....
- Accelerating the Delivery Microsoft Office 365 Many organizations use Office 365's cloud-based mail, collaboration and communication services as the dominant workload. However, as services move to the cloud, data...
- Data Protection and Disaster Recovery with iSCSI and VMware Get this on demand webcast now
- NSS Labs & Cisco Present: Evaluating Leading Breach Detection Systems Today's constantly evolving advanced malware and APTs can evade point-in-time defenses to penetrate networks. Security professionals must evolve their strategy in lockstep to... All Privacy White Papers | Webcasts
Our new bimonthly Internet of Things newsletter helps you keep pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, trends and developments related to the IoT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!