Court Says Activist Protected In Republishing Social Security Numbers That Virginia Revealed On Its Website
from the maybe-time-to-fix-the-problem... dept
Two years ago, we wrote about an absolutely ridiculous situation in Virginia, where the state regularly published government documents online without redacting anyone's social security numbers. Betty "BJ" Ostergren felt that this was a huge privacy violation, and in order to highlight it, she set up a website that displayed the documents that exposed social security numbers from documents published by the state on its website -- including the SSNs of various Virginia public officials. Now, there are plenty of ways government officials in Virginia could respond. A good one would be to start being more careful about not revealing people's social security numbers. But that's not what it did. Instead, it passed a new law that would fine people like Ostergren for republishing the information, even though it was the government itself who made the social security numbers public in the first place!
Ostergren, with the help of the ACLU, sued, saying that such a law was unconstitutional. A district court agreed, but only said it was okay for Ostergren to publish SSNs of public officials. However, now, an appeals court has gone even further and said that Ostergren had the right to republish SSNs of others, beyond just Virginia public officials. Basically, the court effectively says that Virginia should be redacting the SSN information, and it's ridiculous to punish Ostergren (or others) for simply pointing out what the government is publishing.