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Category: Privacy

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Article III Groupie Disrobed: Thoughts on Blogging and Anonymity

A3G.bmp“Article III Groupie” is the pseudonym for the mysterious author of a wildly popular blog about the federal judiciary, Underneath Their Robes. The blog is a lighthearted and witty discussion of the federal judiciary, chronicling the lives of judges and law clerks. Article III Groupie (or A3G for short) describes herself as an attorney from a Top 5 law school who works at a “large law firm in a major city, where she now toils in obscurity.” She writes: “During her free time, she consoles herself through the overconsumption of luxury goods. Her goal in life is to become a federal judicial diva.” Her identity has long remained shrouded in secrecy.

As she describes her blog:

This weblog, “Underneath Their Robes” (“UTR”), reflects Article III Groupie’s interest in, and obsession with, the federal judiciary. UTR is a combination of People, US Weekly, Page Six, The National Enquirer, and Tigerbeat, focused not on vacuous movie stars or fatuous teen idols, but on federal judges. Article III judges are legal celebrities, the “rock stars” of the legal profession’s upper echelons. This weblog is a source of news, gossip, and colorful commentary about these judicial superstars!

Her blog has become a regular read among the legal blogosphere. Even federal judges enjoy it. According to a New Yorker article:

The blog has many fans, including Richard Posner, the legal scholar and federal appeals-court judge in Chicago. “The beauty contests between judges can’t be taken very seriously, but I enjoy the site,” he said. “It presents good information about clerkships and candidates. It’s occasionally a little vulgar, but this is America in 2005.”

People have long wondered who A3G is. The drawing she supplies on her profile page is of an attractive Sex-in-the-City-type diva . . . and one who purports to be starstruck by the nerdy world of the federal judiciary. How exciting that someone–anyone–-is even interested in this lonely corner of the world in the same way that groupies are into rock stars!

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FTC: Letting Experian Keep the Spoils

ftc.bmpSuppose a company engages in an unfair and deceptive trade practice. It makes about $1 billion. The FTC investigates. A settlement is reached for a fine of $1 million and refunds to only some customers — yeilding a net penalty of several million dollars — just a fraction of the spoils. That’s deterrence . . . FTC style!

I recently blogged about how the credit reporting agencies were attempting to use their legal obligation to provide people with free annual credit reports as a profit-generating tool instead. Apparently, the rather extreme measures I described in my post are tame compared to what privacy expert Bob Gellman describes in a DM News column:

The FTC charged that, starting in 2000, Experian deceptively marketed free credit reports by not adequately disclosing that consumers would automatically be signed up for a credit report monitoring service costing $79.95 annually if they didn’t cancel within 30 days. The settlement was reported in the Aug. 15 issue of DM News. The case began with a complaint filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and with a report from the World Privacy Forum.

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Academic Blogging Scandal

bitchphd2.jpgA developing case about academic bloggers contains a chorus of major issues swirling in the blogosphere: the career consequences of blogging, moderating blog debates, hot-button political issues, and defamation.

The case involves Paul Deignan, an engineering PhD candidate who has a blog called Info Theory. Deignan got into a debate with the anonymous blogger Bitch Ph.D. over abortion. Deignan is pro-life; Bitch Ph.D. is pro-choice. They exchanged posts on their mutual blogs, and Deignan also placed a comment on one of Bitch Ph.D.’s posts.

As reported by Inside Higher Ed:

Then he posted a seemingly innocuous entry on the Bitch Ph.D. site: “Your linking talking points w/o analysis. Already I see several points that are exaggerated and misconstrued without even needing research…”

Feeling that this comment and subsequent ones from Deignan did not qualify as “substantive debate,” she soon deleted his comments and banned him from her site. Her policy states, “Comments are great; obnoxious comments get deleted. Deal.”

If this were all, the story would be just a typical tale of the blogosphere. But things got much uglier:

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8

Suing Wikipedia

Wikipedia.jpgWhat happens if there’s a Wikipedia article about you that’s unflattering? What if it is in error or revealing of your private life? Wikipedia, for those not familiar with it, is an online encyclopedia that is written and edited collectively by anybody who wants to participate.

Daniel Brandt, a blogger who maintains blogs called Google Watch and Wikipedia Watch complained to Wikipedia administrators asking them to delete an entry about him. What should one’s rights in this regard be?

Here’s what Brandt writes:

There is a problem with the structure of Wikipedia. The basic problem is that no one, neither the Trustees of Wikimedia Foundation, nor the volunteers who are connected with Wikipedia, consider themselves responsible for the content. . . .

At the same time that no one claims responsibility, there are two unique characteristics of Wikipedia that can be very damaging to a person, corporation, or group. The first is that anyone can edit an article, and there is no guarantee that any article you read has not been edited maliciously, and remains uncorrected in that state, at the precise time that you access that article.

The second unique characteristic is that Wikipedia articles, and in some cases even the free-for-all “talk” discussions behind the articles, rank very highly in the major search engines. This means that Wikipedia’s potential for inflicting damage is amplified by several orders of magnitude.

Brandt muses whether he ought to sue Wikipedia:

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Kerr v. Goldstein on Georgia v. Randolph

home.gifThere’s a terrific debate going on over at the VC between Orin Kerr and Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSBlog about the recently argued U.S. Supreme Court case, Georgia v. Randolph. Tom Goldstein argued the case for Scott Randolph. The case involves an incident where Janet Randolph (Scott’s wife) consented to the police searching the couple’s home. Scott, who was present at the time, objected. The police searched nevertheless, and they found evidence against Scott of drug violations. The issue, as framed by the grant of cert is: “Can police search a home when a co-habitant consents and the other co-habitant is present and does not consent?”

A few quick thoughts:

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6

ChoicePoint: More Than 145,000 Victims?

choicepoint2.jpgChoicePoint just won’t be outdone. They were, after all, the company that started all the extensive attention on data security breaches. Back in February 2005, ChoicePoint announced that it had improperly sold personal data on about 145,000 people to identity thieves. Pursuant to a California data security breach notice law, ChoicePoint notified the affected individuals in California. Soon afterwards, many states started thinking: Geez, we’d like our citizens to be informed too. They put up a fuss, and ChoicePoint voluntarily agreed to notify all of the 145,000 people it said were affected. Many states subsequently passed data security breach notification laws similar to California’s.

After ChoicePoint’s announcement came a barrage of announcements of security breaches by numerous companies and institutions. According to a very useful listing and tally by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, data security breaches have affected over 50 million Americans (there may surely be some double-counting here, as some unlucky folks may have been affected multiple times).

Now ChoicePoint has announced that it has notified another 17,000 people that their personal data was compromised in the breach announced in February. According to the AP:

ChoicePoint Inc., the company that disclosed earlier this year that thieves had accessed its massive database of consumer information, said Tuesday in a regulatory filing it has sent out another 17,000 notices to people telling them they may be victims of fraud.

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Your Microsoft Word Documents Can Rat on You

metadata1a.jpgMany people don’t realize that Microsoft Word encodes information about the authors and editors of each document. It’s called “metadata.” For example, some of this data is contained under the “Properties” section of the “File” pull down menu.

An article in the New York Times describes what can be revealed when metadata is examined:

It hardly ranks in the annals of “gotcha!” but right-wing blogs were buzzing for at least a few days last week when an unsigned Microsoft Word document was circulated by the Democratic National Committee. The memo referred to the “anti-civil rights and anti-immigrant rulings” of Samuel A. Alito Jr., a federal appeals court judge who has been nominated to the Supreme Court by President Bush.

The stern criticisms of Judge Alito rubbed some commentators the wrong way (Chris Matthews of MSNBC called it “disgusting” last Monday). But whatever the memo’s rhetorical pitch, right-leaning bloggers revealed that it contained a much more universal, if unintended, message: It pays to mind your metadata. . . .

According to some technologists, including Dennis M. Kennedy, a lawyer and consultant based in St. Louis, (denniskennedy.com), metadata might include other bits of information like notes and questions rendered as “comments” within a document (“need to be more specific here,” for example, or in the case of my editors, “eh??”), or the deletions and insertions logged by such features as “track changes” in Microsoft Word.

A blogger searched the Alito memo for metadata and could figure out some of the authors of the document. According to the NYT story:

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Hi-Tech Rat Race: Law Enforcement Surveillance and New Technology

surveillance2.jpgBrian Bergstein writes in an AP article about the issue of law enforcement surveillance and technology:

With each new advance in communications, the government wants the same level of snooping power that authorities have exercised over phone conversations for a century. Technologists recoil, accusing the government of micromanaging — and potentially limiting — innovation.

Today, this tug of war is playing out over the Federal Communications Commission’s demands that a phone-wiretapping law be extended to voice-over-Internet services and broadband networks.

Opponents are trying to block the ruling on various grounds: that it goes beyond the original scope of the law, that it will force network owners to make complicated changes at their own expense, or that it will have questionable value in improving security.

No matter who wins the battle over this law — the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, known as CALEA — this probably won’t be the last time authorities raise hackles by seeking a bird’s eye view over the freewheeling information flow created by new technology.

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National Security Letters

confidential3.jpgDid you know that the FBI can issue a letter to an Internet Service Provider or a financial institution demanding that they turn over data on a customer? The letter doesn’t require probable cause. No judge must authorize the letter. The FBI simply issues the letter and gets the information. There’s a gag order, too, preventing the institution receiving the letter from mentioning this fact.

A recent lengthy Washington Post article examines National Security Letters (NSLs) in depth:

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters — one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people — are extending the bureau’s reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

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2

Finding Dad with a DNA Database

dna10.jpgAn interesting story from the N.Y. Daily News by Corky Siemaszko, with a soundbite from me:

Using his own spit and the Internet, a tech-savvy teenager tracked down the anonymous sperm donor who is his biological dad. . . .

“It shows that anybody can be a high-tech sleuth in this age,” said Daniel Solove, a professor at the George Washington University Law School and author of “The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age.” . . .

Sometime last year, the boy sent a swab of saliva and $280 to www.FamilyTreeDna.com, a DNA database that traces family trees – and is popular with descendants of Holocaust survivors looking for lost kin. . . .

Nine months later, the teen was contacted by two men who had registered with the site and whose Y chromosomes appeared to be close matches to that of the teen. Y chromosomes are passed down from fathers to sons.

Their surnames were the same, but spelled differently. So the teen went to another Web site, www.Omnitrace.com, where he plugged in the few details he got from the fertility clinic about his dad — date and place of birth, his college degree. A few keystrokes later, he knew which one was his dad. . . .

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