Last year, when law professor Joel Reidenberg wanted to show his Fordham University class how readily private information is available on the Internet, he assigned a group project. It was collecting personal information from the Web about himself.
This year, after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made public comments that seemingly may have questioned the need for more protection of private information, Reidenberg assigned the same project. Except this time Scalia was the subject, the prof explains to the ABA Journal in a telephone interview.
His class turned in a 15-page dossier that included not only Scalia's home address, home phone number and home value, but his food and movie preferences, his wife's personal e-mail address and photos of his grandchildren, reports Above the Law.
And, as Scalia himself made clear in a statement to Above the Law, he isn't happy about the invasion of his privacy:
"Professor Reidenberg's exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since he was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any," the justice says, among other comments.
A Supreme Court spokeswoman confirmed to the ABA Journal in an e-mail that the Scalia blast to ATL "is accurately attributed to Justice Scalia."
In response, Reidenberg tells the ABA Journal that the information gathered by his class about Scalia was all "publicly available, for free," and wasn't posted on the Internet by the class or otherwise further publicized. He views the dossier-gathering about a public figure as a legitimate classroom exercise intended to spark discussion about privacy law, and says he and the class didn't intend to offend Scalia.
The availability of such information on the Web makes it possible for the government to conduct surveillance that otherwise would be much more difficult or even impossible to pursue through court orders and other official mechanisms, Reidenberg contends. And aggregation of various bits of information also can lead to more troubling use of the compiled information, he says.
"When there are so few privacy protections for secondary use of personal information, that information can be used in many troubling ways," he writes in an e-mail to the ABA Journal. "A class assignment that illustrates this point is not one of them. Indeed, the very fact that Justice Scalia found it objectionable and felt compelled to comment underscores the value and legitimacy of the exercise." | ABA Journal via BB via Egg |
I contend that in the long term, Scalia's reaction about "judgment" will be closer to how we actually handle privacy issues. It will become a matter of law when information is abused, but what constitutes "abuse" will be narrowly restricted. The rest will come down to good manners.
In the mean time, this kind of exercise is spot on.