PRIVACY + SECURITY BLOG

News, Developments, and Insights

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Snooping Landlords and the War on Terrorism

Snooping Landlords

In this interesting AP article [link no longer available], a man won an invasion of privacy lawsuit when his property manager searched his home and reported to the FBI that there were terrorist materials in the apartment. FBI officials detained, fingerprinted, and handcuffed the man, but eventually determined that the man wasn’t a terrorist:

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Why Volokh Is Wrong on Public Records and the First Amendment

Public Records and Privacy

In an interesting and thoughtful post, Eugene Volokh (law, UCLA) takes issue with California’s Megan’s Law, Cal. Penal Code § 290.46(j), which places personal data about sex offenders on the Internet yet restricts the uses of this data. The law allows people to use the information “only to protect a person at risk.” It prohibits the use of the information for, among other things, purposes related to insurance, loans, credit, employment, benefits, and housing.

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The Pathology of Picking Supreme Court Justices

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court appointment process has become almost pathological . . . ironically, for rational reasons. The incentive is for presidents to select people who are: (1) young, so they have a reign on the Court that rivals Fidel Castro’s in length; and (2) obscure, so they have rarely taken any positions on any major issues. [Sadly, the future prospects for Supreme Court appointments for bloggers are not looking good.]

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California’s Tougher Anti-Paparazzi Law and the First Amendment

Paparazzi

Recently, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that toughened California’s Anti-Paparazzi Act, Cal. Civ. Code §1708.8. The original act was passed in 1998 in response to Princess Diana’s death, which was caused when her car was fleeing aggressive paparazzi.

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When Clacks Squawk: The New Keystroke Surveillance

Keyboard Tracking

You thought keyboard clacking was just annoying noise. Little did you know your clacking is broadcasting what you’re typing!

Berkeley researchers have developed a way to monitor your keystrokes without installing a device into your computer. Thus, far, keystrokes can be monitored via special software or other devices installed into people’s computers (either directly or via a virus or spyware). This new technique relies on the clacking of your keyboard. According to the AP [link no longer available]:

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The Grand Jury: Forcing People to Help Prosecutors and to Pay for It Too

 

Should private citizens be forced, against theGrand Juryir will, to subsidize and assist the state in its prosecutorial function?  This is basically what happens when people are summoned to testify before grand juries or are picked for grand jury duty.  I’ve previously written an extensive critique of the grand jury, with a focus on its subpoena powers.  An article today in the Washington Post describes the debilitating costs grand jury witnesses must often pay in attorneys’ fees:

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Fox News and Vigilante Justice Gone Bad

Fox News and Shaming

There have been some interesting discussions recently about people taking matters into their own hands and shaming others whom they witness committing crimes.  A while back, I wrote about the shaming of the dog poop girl, whose picture and personal information were placed on a website after she failed to clean up her dog’s poop on the subway.  Kaimi Wenger also had some interesting thoughts about the case here and here, as well as did Marcy Peek in a post about Internet vigilantism.  Just the other day, Brooks Holland writes about a case involving the shaming of a NYC subway flasher, where a woman caught a picture of him on her cell phone camera and posted it online.

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The Washingtonienne Case and the Still-Very-Much-Alive Public Disclosure Tort

Washingtonienne Case

Earlier this summer, I blogged about the Washingtonienne case. Recently law professor Andrew McClurg wrote a piece for the Washington Post about the case. He writes:

Cutler’s blog, written under the pseudonym Washingtonienne, was a daily diary of her sex life while working as a staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). It recounted, entertainingly and in considerable — sometimes embarrassing — detail, her ongoing relationships with six men, including [the] plaintiff. . . .

Although McClurg notes that the plaintiff “suffered a genuine wrong,” he also states that the law “appears to be against him” because he “does not allege that any of the statements about him are untrue.” McClurg notes that the plaintiff is suing under the public disclosure of private facts tort, which “provides a remedy when one publicizes private, embarrassing, non-newsworthy facts about a person in a manner that reasonable people would find highly offensive.” McClurg notes that “while Cutler’s actions may meet this standard, courts have long been hostile to such lawsuits because of a fear of inhibiting free speech.” McClurg continues:

In 1989 the court tossed out a lawsuit against a newspaper for publishing a rape victim’s name in violation of Florida law. While it stopped short of ruling that a state may never punish true speech, the test it adopted for when that can be done without violating the First Amendment is so stringent Justice Byron White lamented in dissent that the court had “obliterate[d]” the public disclosure tort.

Not so. Time after time the Supreme Court has explicitly carved out space for the public disclosure tort to exist. In the series of cases involving the First Amendment and privacy restrictions on true speech, the Court has always confined the First Amendment to speech about matters “of public significance.” The Court did this in Smith v. Daily Mail Pub. Co., 443 U.S. 97, 103 (1979) as well as its most recent case on the issue, Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001), where the Court held that “privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance.” Id. at 534.

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