Court Says Posting PII Online is Cool — First Amendment Cool

I’m going to have to apologize in advance for the extreme use of ellipses here. I’m frankly confused as can be over this blog post, and the result is aggressive punctuation.

In what seems to be one of the most ridiculous situations we’ve read about recently, the Richmond Times reports that a U.S. District Court judge has ruled that a woman posting Social Security numbers of government workers online was, well… *cough*… *pains me to type this*…protected by the First Amendment. Yes… posting PII online is protected by the First Amendment. The judge ordered the state of Virginia to halt prosecution against her for doing so. The state has appealed, and a three judge panel is reviewing the appeal.

This is only part of the ridiculousness. This Virginia woman is essentially doing this in protest to how accessible Virginia residents’ personal information is via public records stored by various clerks around the state (mortgages, divorce decrees, etc). Most (if not all) of these records she’s referring to are obtainable by anyone in unredacted form, online in some cases or in person in most cases. In a way, we’re rooting for her…

… but…

Isn’t a ruling like this a bit counterproductive? Having a court rule that posting PII online is protected as freedom of speech is… well… very bad for data loss! We’re not questioning the ruling, really; it may make sense. It does, however, seem (on some level)… well… really *expletive*’ing messed up.

On the one hand, you have laws being made and enforced to protect that sort of data, and on the other hand you have judges throwing around the First Amendment. Maybe, just maybe, if governments didn’t exempt themselves from these breach notification laws, we’d be in better shape! Virginia’s data breach law exempts government PII in this paragraph:

“The term does not include information that is lawfully obtained from publicly available information, or from federal, state, or local government records lawfully made available to the general public.”

It seems hypocritical of the State of Virginia to go after anyone about posting PII online when the government freely does the same thing. Virginia isn’t the only state exempting themselves, either — many are. Maybe we should tabulate a list of ’em?

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Written by d2d

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