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Fourth Circuit Reverses Injunction Relating to Publication of Social Security Number on Virginia Land-Transfer Records

By Derek Gilna

The appeal arose from a First Amendment challenge to Virginia's Personal Information Privacy Act, Va. Code Sec. 59.1-442 to 444, part of which prohibits “[i]ntentionally communicat[ing] another individual's social security number to the general public.” The district court ruled that this was unconstitutional, as applied to an advocacy website that criticized Virginia's release of private information and showed publicly available Virginia land records containing unredacted Social Security Numbers. The court entered a permanent injunction barring Virginia from punishing the republication of "publicly obtainable documents containing unredacted Social Security Numbers of Virginia legislators, Virginia Executive Officers or Clerks of Court as part at an effort to reform Virginia law in the area of online publication.”

In a long discussion relating the history of First Amendment rights, and applying those to the areas of the expectation at privacy in one's social security number, the court recognized the fact that the injunction was overbroad, concluding that "the district court abused its discretion by not tailor[ing] the scope of the remedy to fit the nature and extent of the constitutional violation... [and] We thus reverse the district court's June 2, 2009 decision and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion." See: Ostergren v. Cuccinelli, 615 F. 3d 263 (4th Cir., 2010).

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Related legal case

Ostergren v. Cuccinelli