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Privacy advocate prevails at 4th Circuit

Privacy advocate B.J. Ostergren, who posted state officials’ Social Security numbers as a dramatic demonstration of security lapses on official websites, won an appellate victory Monday.

A 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel affirmed a district court ruling that a Virginia law barring Ostergren’s public postings violated the First Amendment. The 3-judge panel remanded the case to Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Payne to craft an even stronger injunction against enforcement of the law aimed at Ostergren’s publications.

Ostergren publishes TheVirginiaWatchdog.com, which advocates against the government making personal information available on the Internet.  The website posts public records, including the Social Security numbers of some public officials obtained from government websites.  By posting those documents, Ostergren intends to illustrate how easy it is to obtain private information from government websites.

“Given her criticism about how public records are managed, we cannot see how drawing attention to the problem by displaying those very documents could be considered unprotected speech,” wrote Judge Allyson Duncan for the panel.

By Peter Vieth

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