June 14th, 2013

NY Judge KOs Request for Mugshots/Data by Mugshot Company (Updated)

Some of you are aware of a cottage industry whereby “entrepreneurs” scrape the websites of local law enforcement, put mugshots on the web, and then, for a small but tasty fee will take them down when an aggrieved individual complains. I wrote about this last year (as did Scott Greenfield, see also Reuters).

No, I don’t know how such people can live with themselves by creating misery for others just so they can turn a buck. But that is only a secondary point of this post.

As first reported by the New York Law Journal ($), a New York judge shot down the Freedom of Information request of Kyle Prall, who owns one of those extortion-like sites. In Prall v. New York City Department of Corrections, Justice Darrell Gavrin denied the request, which came to her attention when Prall sued for the information after being denied by the Department of Corrections.

The website, BustedMugshots.com (no link, no juice),publishes the names, addresses, dates of birth, arrest records and photos of inmates. The charge is $68 to have the data removed.

Given the problems with identify theft and the fact that much of the information is private, the court ruled that the Department did not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner in using the magic word ‘no.” The court wrote that the Department of Corrections:

demonstrated a particularized and specific justification for withholding the dates of birth and addresses of inmates. Respondents assert that the dates of birth and addresses of inmates are not relevant or essential to their work, as it is primarily charged with the duty of detaining inmates and preparing them for successful reentry into the community. This personal information has been reported to respondents in confidence and the information is not relevant to the ordinary work of the New York City Department of Corrections.

In view of the privacy interests at stake, disclosure of the records of respondents containing dates of birth and home addresses, and other personal information of inmates could easily be used to facilitate identity theft, thereby resulting in both economic and personal hardship to inmates. The dates of birth of inmates, who enjoy a lesser degree of privacy, have been protected from disclosure under FOIL. The decision of respondents to deny petitioner access to dates of birth and addresses of inmates was not arbitrary and capricious nor was it an abuse of discretion.[citations omitted for blog post]

And Prall didn’t get the pictures either, and that was based on his own conduct in trying to use the information to inflict harm. As much as I hate using block quotes from opinions

As to that branch of the petition which seeks photographs, respondents properly withheld photographs of inmates as the disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy resulting in personal and/or economic hardship to inmates. Specifically, respondents contend that “the department is not privy to the circumstances surrounding any trials, court appearances, and possible cooperation with enforcement” and the release of inmate photographs could expose them to harm. Furthermore, inmates will suffer economic hardship if their photographs are released because petitioner intends to post these photographs on his website and then demand a $68.00 fee to remove each photograph. Given the earning capacity of inmates, the $68.00 fee is quite steep. If the fee is not paid, an inmate’s photograph and other information will remain on the website, causing personal and economic hardship due to the notorious nature of the photograph which would be readily available to a prospective employer, creditor, potential landlord, or the like.

Respondents also claim inmate photographs are exempt from FOIL disclosure because disclosure will endanger the lives and safety of inmates and their family members. In support of their argument, respondents submitted the affidavit of E. Perez, Assistant Chief of Security for Department of Corrections. Mr. Perez states that he has more than 20 years experience and explains that the majority of violence in jails is gang-related. He opines that the release of photographs of inmates would increase gang violence targeted at inmates and their family members. Personal information such as names, addresses and photographs of gang members in jail, which is ordinarily not available to gang members outside the prisons, would be more readily available through exposure on the internet; this exposure would endanger the lives and safety of inmates. Interestingly, petitioner did not rebut the affidavit of Mr. Perez.

The only real question I have on this, why would a lawyer be a party do such a scummy project, whose only purpose is the creation of misery so that someone can profit? In this case Prall was represented by John Campbell of Tilem & Campbell. It is one thing to represent someone bad who’s been arrested, but assist him in creating misery by representing him in a civil suit?  As I wrote just yesterday, you have to learn to say no to potential clients.

Update: Just days after this post, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on another case dealing with semi-public governement data: Sometimes the government will give it out and sometimes not, depending on who you are and what the data is being used for.


October 4th, 2012

Docs to Cops: Drop Dead

This story comes via Scott Greenfield, and it is depressing, funny and heartwarming all at the same time.

This is the depressing part:  Police down in Sarasota, Florida thought they had a brilliant idea on how to get information on people they thought were violating the drug laws with respect to abusing prescription medications. All they had to do, the geniuses figured, was have patients sign a form waiving all of their patient-physician privacy rights. This way, if they wanted to investigate someone, they wouldn’t have to bother with all that icky stuff regarding judges and search warrants. The doctors would just have the patient sign the forms, and then the cops could just dance right into the doctor’s office and start nosing around without the patient knowing. Brilliant

The waiver, as originally published in Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune, looks like this:

The local constabulary was obviously hoping that patients wouldn’t bother to read all the legal mumbo-jumbo and challenge their doctor regarding the form. When you go to a doctor, and are in pain, reading forms isn’t exactly high on the list of things to do. Especially when written in legalese.

When people seek out medical attention it is because they need treatment, so they generally sign whatever is placed in front of them. And they don’t want to pick fights about forms with doctors for fear of being shown the exit door.

One of the more comical aspects of this attempted end-run around the constitutional rights of the patients, came from Patrick Duggan, assistant general counsel for the sheriff’s office. He, along with Sgt. Debra Kaspar from the Sheriff’s office, were behind the scheme. Duggan had this to say:

We want to make good cases. We don’t want anyone’s rights violated. We drafted the form to give the doctors a mechanism to contact us. It was really designed more as a safeguard to protect people’s rights than anything else.

His ability to say this without doubling over in laughter qualifies him for political office, where mendacity is king.

Now I did say that this story was also heartwarming. How could something this awful be heartwarming?

Easy. Because the local doctors have told Duggan and Kaspar and their minions to go to hell.

From the Herald Tribune:

Kaspar and Duggan have no explanation for why doctors are not turning in any waivers.

The docs done good.


March 23rd, 2012

Facebook Says “Privacy Expectations” On Its Site

Demand in personal injury suits for Facebook details are becoming more common, as I’ve posted about recently. One of the defense arguments is that there is no expectation of privacy for things posted on Facebook, regardless of the privacy settings, so the lawyers should be able to snoop.

Now, just so the record is clear, Facebook says otherwise. In a posting today on its own site, Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote that there is an expctation of privacy. The reason for her post was a recent story where employers were asking job applicants for their Facebook passwords, or to have one of their managers “friended,” so that the company could go rummaging around in the personal lives of the applicant. Sort of like asking to see someone’s email account, only much worse. She wrote that “This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends.”

Egan wrote with respect to the expectation of privacy and delving into the accounts:

This practice undermines the privacy expectations and the security of both the user and the user’s friends.

There is a clear parallel here to the litigation setting. Users write with an expectation of privacy, and friends of those users do also. So says Facebook. Should a court permit unlimited snooping, it isn’t just the litigant who has been probed by the lawyer, but all of the litigants friends.




January 8th, 2012

Previously Anonymous Actress Suing IMDb/Amazon Refiles Suit

Junie Hoang has agreed to surrender her anonymity to sue IMDb/Amazon for invasion of privacy

Back in November, a suit made national headlines when an anonymous actress sued the Internet Movie Database (owned by Amazon) for invading her privacy. She alleged that Amazon had her credit card information to find her date of birth, and gave it to IMDb to put up on its site. This issue was important given the rampant discrimination in Hollywood against actresses who reach the age of 40. She claimed that IMDb got the date of birth from Amazon.

The lawsuit sounds in fraud and breach of contract given various privacy and consumer protection laws, as well as Amazon’s agreement to handle personal information “carefully and sensibly.”

I predicted back then that Amazon’s lawyers would attack the concept of anonymity, under the theory that the actress would drop the suit if forced to reveal her name. And I said Amazon would win that fight as federal courts have a very high bar for anonymous suits.

Amazon did exactly that, and as I predicted, they persevered and the judge dismissed the suit forcing her to either drop the matter or go public.

And actress Huang Hoang, using the stage name Junie Hoang, likely surprised the hell out of Amazon’s lawyers  by telling them, in substance, vade et caca in pilleum et ipse traheatur super aures tuo (go shit in a hat and pull it down over your ears).  She decided to refile suit under her real name. It’s nice to see that she has the courage of her convictions.

By the way, the underlying basis for why Ms. Hoang wanted to keep her age private, and was outraged at what she believes was the breach of her privacy is here:

Women over 40 make up 24.3 percent of the U.S. population, but a casting analysis by the Screen Actors Guild showed actresses over 40 get just 12.5 percent of roles for television and film. Men of that age are also about a quarter of the population, but nearly equal their ranks in casting.



November 14th, 2011

IMDb Attacks Anonymity of Actress that Sued For Publishing Her Age

Last month a story rocketed around the web of an actress suing the Internet Movie Database (owned by Amazon.com), claiming it used credit card information to find her birth date and publish it on the IMDb site.  Most stories left the invasion of privacy issue alone and focused on an actress suing to keep her age confidential – she says that ageism in Hollywood is a big problem for actresses as they approach 40.

I used my site, however, to talk about whether or not a court would permit her to proceed anonymously, a subject then picked up by The Hollywood Reporter.

And now The Hollywood Reporter follows up with a story saying that IMDb is doing exactly as I  predicted, attacking her anonymity. I bet there is no doubt among the strategists that if she can be forced to reveal her identity,  the suit will be dropped and IMDb will never have to confront the issue of privacy issues and credit cards.

According to THR, IMDb has now filed a nasty motion to dismiss, believing that this actress is the same as another that made a similar complaint:

she first tried to get the service to post a false birthdate so she could fool potential Hollywood employers into thinking she was younger than she actually is. Now a judge is being asked to dismiss the lawsuit so as to not perpetuate a fraud on the public.

Oooooh. Fight back against the actress with a charge of trying to defraud the public. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that what Hollywood and actors do? Does anyone really believe a giant monkey will climb the Empire State Building? That there’s a giant intergalactic war going on? That Joanie really loves Chachi?

This is the way IMDb approaches the  issue in the Court:

“Truth and justice are philosophical pillars of this Court. The perpetuation of fraud, even for an actor’s career, is inconsistent with these principals. Plaintiff’s attempt to manipulate the federal court system so she can censor iMDb’s display of her birth date and pretend to the world that she is not 40 years old is selfish, contrary to the public interest and a frivolous abuse of this Court’s resources.”

Of course, the actress wasn’t trying to perpetuate a fraud on the court, but trying to stop an invasion of privacy regarding her credit card information. So that is an interesting shift of the real issue.

But not everything is serious in the filing, as THR reports:

The company also claims to be taking the moral high ground in protecting entertainment consumers from an actress who wants to “more easily deceive the public and prospective employers about her age and potentially be considered for more roles.”

Of course, I think that IMDb is being funny when it talks about the public being deceived by an actress, whose very training is doing just that: pretending to be someone else. It’s sort of what makes Hollywood go round and round.

One particularly odd thing about the synopsis of the filing: IMDb is claiming an attempted fraud, yet they claim not to know who the actress actually is. They only think it is someone else who made a similar complaint.

Anyway, when the fighting is all done, I think the actress will lose her bid to be anonymous, but it will have nothing to do with trying to perpetuate frauds. It will be because this type of case doesn’t meet the high bar set for seeking anonymity that I originally discussed.