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Judge sides with Va. woman who posted Social Security numbers on Web

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Virginia woman who posted on her Web site the Social Security numbers…

A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Virginia woman who posted on her Web site the Social Security numbers of prominent people to make a point about the availability and potential for abuse of public records on the Internet.

According to The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Robert Payne decided Friday that a Virginia law barring the dissemination of Social Security numbers, even those found on public records such as deeds or marriage papers, is unconstitutional insofar as it applies to Betty "B.J." Ostergren’s Web site, TheVirginiaWatchdog.com.

But Payne did not overturn the law, saying he needed to hear more about the issue, The AP said.

Ostergren filed her lawsuit in June, calling it an undue restriction on her First Amendment rights that she could be punished for publishing data from records the government itself makes widely available over the Internet, The AP said.

As far as Ostergren’s Web site goes, Payne agreed.

A Richmond-area privacy activist, Ostergren told The News Media and the Law last year, “I’m an advocate of records being open and available, but records should be taken off the Internet. I wouldn’t drive across the state to a courthouse and I don’t think someone sitting in an Internet café in Nigeria is going to drive to a courthouse in Virginia.”

According to The AP, Payne wrote in his decision: "It is difficult to imagine a more archetypal instance of the press informing the public of government operations through government records than Ostergren’s posting of public records to demonstrate the lack of care being taken by the government to protect the private information of individuals."