The Washington Post reports on an interesting little incident involving Tucker Carlson:
Potomac Video store clerk Charles Williamson, 28, posted a message on his blog, Freelance Genius, Dec. 23 that described how he set up a movie rental account for MSNBC host Tucker Carlson at the MacArthur Boulevard store the day before.
“I could tell you what he and his ridiculously wasped-out female companion (wife?) rented if you really want to know,” he wrote. “I won’t tell you where he lives, though. That would be wrong and stupid.” Williamson also joked that he wouldn’t send 10,000 copies of Jon Stewart’s best-selling political satire, “America (The Book),” to Carlson’s home; Stewart ridiculed Carlson on “Crossfire” before the 2004 election.
A week later, Williamson had forgotten all about it, he told us yesterday. That is, until Carlson, 37, reappeared at the video store and, said Williamson, “got pretty aggressive.” According to Williamson, Carlson confronted him about the blog and said he viewed the post as a threat to him and his wife. “He said, ‘If you keep this [expletive] up, I will [expletive] destroy you,’ ” Williamson recalled. . . .
In a phone interview Thursday, Carlson acknowledged that he approached Williamson in the store and said he was “very aggressive” because he wanted the post removed: “I don’t like to call the police or call his boss. . . . I’m a libertarian. I’m not into that.”
The store clerk removed the post. And afterwards, the store fired him. According to the article, the clerk “consulted a lawyer friend and was told he had probably not broken any laws.” Not as of yet, but had he disclosed, he would have violated the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2710, which provides a private cause of action when a videotape service provider “knowingly discloses . . . personally identifiable infroamtion concerning any consumer of such provider.” The VPPA provides for liquidated damages of $2500 plus punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
The store was right to punish the clerk. Perhaps firing him was a bit extreme, but he certainly should have been subject to some kind of punishment. The story makes me wonder whether the clerk was ever informed about the store’s legal obligations under VPPA to protect customer privacy. Had the clerk not been trained, then the store managers are also partly at fault.
Tucker Carlson’s take-the-law-into-his-own-hands approach by making vague aggressive threats seems a bit too wild west, especially given the existence of a law prohibiting the clerk’s disclosure. And why isn’t it appropriate for a libertarian to speak with the clerk’s boss? I sure hope most libertarians would handle it differently and be glad that there’s a law protecting the confidentiality of video rental records.
Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.