A federal judge has ruled that the First Amendment protects the right of Virginia privacy activist Betty Ostergren to publish the Social Security numbers of public officials on her website. She posted the numbers to protest the Virginia government's policy of posting public real estate records online that included people's Social Security numbers. The decision—and the associated publicity for Ostergren's website—may prompt Virginia politicians to hurry up and fix their own website.
For several years, Virginia has been making the real estate records available for a nominal fee from a commonwealth website. Ostergren, wanting to give public officials a taste of their own medicine, began reproducing the records of legislators and court clerks—Social Security numbers and all—on her website.