“A judge has ruled that snooping trash collectors in Seattle cannot simply go through garbage bins without any sort of warrant to determine whether its citizens are putting food in the wrong place. It’s a win for the property-rights-focused lawyers of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF).” [Scott Shackford, earlier] While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in California v. Greenwood that an expectation of privacy does not apply to garbage, the Supreme Court of Washington has ruled that a provision in its own state’s constitution provides privacy protection that extends beyond the federal guarantee. [Eugene Volokh]
“Today a US District Court ruled in favor of Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s lawsuit against California Attorney General Kamala Harris, ruling that her demands for the Foundation to hand over its list of members and supporters is unconstitutional.” [AFP] We’ve repeatedly covered Harris’s unprecedented drive to demand disclosure of donor lists by nonprofits that carry on activities in California, a step likely to lead to private and public retaliation against individuals and groups revealed to have donated to unpopular or controversial causes.
As the WSJ notes in an editorial, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real “declared her disclosure requirement an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights,” finding that there was scant evidence the disclosures were necessary to prevent charity fraud, that (contrary to assurances) her office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality” of nonprofits’ donor lists, some 1,400 of which Harris’s office had in fact published online. As for retaliation against donors, “although the Attorney General correctly points out that such abuses are not as violent or pervasive as those encountered in NAACP v. Alabama or other cases from [the civil rights] era,” he wrote, “this Court is not prepared to wait until an AFP opponent carries out one of the numerous death threats made against its members.”
A plaintiff’s lawyer and union ally, Harris recently surfaced as an apparently key player in the alliance of state attorneys general intent on using criminal investigatory powers to probe so-called climate denial at non-profit research and advocacy groups as well as at energy companies like ExxonMobil. That makes at least two episodes in which Harris has signaled interest in unprecedented and aggressive steps to pry open the internal workings of private advocacy organizations that take positions adverse to hers. Harris is a leading contender in the Democratic Senate primary to succeed California Senator Barbara Boxer.
Update: Now expanded and adapted into a longer post at Cato.
- Feared Philadelphia union boss launches program to use drones to surveill non-union worksites [William Bender, Philly.com (“got into a fistfight with a nonunion electrical contractor – and broke his nose – at a construction site at Third and Reed.”)]
- “We know where you live” continued: U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez’s “persuader rule” exposes lawyers and other professionals to intimidation, creates legal minefield for employers expressing opinion [The Hill, Jon Hyman, earlier]
- Richard Epstein on labor unions [Libertarianism.org podcast discussion with Aaron Ross Powell and Trevor Burrus]
- Actions protected as “concerted” by labor law include some taken by individual employee entirely alone, according to National Labor Relations Board, as it declares unlawful company policy against secretly taping conversations at the workplace [Jon Hyman, Whole Foods case]
- “Brace for more litigation based on feds’ new joint employment guidance, labor lawyers tell companies” [ABA Journal; Insurance Journal on Browning-Ferris; Daniel Schwartz; earlier] Applying NLRB joint employer notion to company like McDonald’s could blow up franchise business model, which some union advocates might not mind [Diana Furchtgott-Roth]
- Judge Merrick Garland shows great deference to NLRB, except in cases where it has ruled for an employer [Bill McMorris, Free Beacon]
If not for government, who would defend our privacy? “Denver police officers performed searches on state and federal criminal justice databases that were not work-related and instead were made to help officers in the romance department and to assist friends, according to an independent department monitor.” Punishment was usually limited to a written reprimand. [ArsTechnica]
Gawker Media published a sex tape it had obtained of a famous wrestler, then refused to take it down when a judge ordered it to do so. Now a Florida jury has hit it with a $115 million verdict. [Ars Technica] While at some point a civil litigant was bound to catch up with the notoriously scurrilous media outfit, the question now is whether other, better media outfits need to worry too. On appeal, the defendant will press its contention that the contents of the tape were newsworthy, a category that allows broader use of material that otherwise would invade privacy.
Comparisons are already off and running between this and the $55 million Erin Andrews invasion of privacy verdict against defendants including Marriott. In comparing the two, however, it should be borne in mind that the Gawker case was one of willful misconduct, while the Andrews case charged the hotel with negligent conduct that inadvertently allowed another party to commit a crime against her privacy.
P.S. A reminder of Gawker’s deep, abiding interest in free speech (“Arrest climate change deniers“) Plus, careers for the 21st century: sex tape broker (with careful attention to the legalities so as to dodge California law’s definition of extortion).
“The Taco Bell exec who got canned from his job after he was caught on video drunkenly attacking his Uber driver is suing the driver for $5 million. … The suit says that it’s against California state law to record someone without their consent.” A lawyer for Uber driver Edward Caban says plaintiff Benjamin Golden’s lawyer is incorrectly invoking the California law, which he says bans audio but not video recording. [LAist]
N.B. Note reader David C.’s advice in comments that the privacy suit appears to be a counterclaim to an existing lawsuit by the driver, always an important piece of context, and that the in-car tape recorded both audio and video of the incident.
“Under the proposal, the massive class of non-Yahoo users won’t get any payment, but the class lawyers at Girard Gibbs and Kaplan Fox intend to ask for up to $4 million in fees. (The ultimate amount of fees will be up to the judge, but Yahoo has agreed not to oppose any fee request up to $4 million.) While users won’t get any payment, Yahoo will change how it handles user e-mails — but it isn’t the change that the plaintiffs attorneys were originally asking for.” [Joe Mullin, ArsTechnica]
“Fearing a civil liberties backlash and ‘bad public relations’ for the Obama administration, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refused in early 2014 to end a secret U.S. policy that prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social media messages of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas, a former senior department official said.” According to former acting DHS undersecretary John Cohen, political “optics” inhibited U.S. officials from the fully legal course of checking the social media posts of visa applicants. The process came under scrutiny after the granting of a fiance visa to Tashfeen Malik, a resident of high-terror-risk Pakistan who had extensively discussed jihad and martyrdom online. [ABC News; but see below updates/corrections, which correct significant errors in the early reporting]
It’s important to keep straight that our Constitution restricts what the U.S. government can do to U.S. persons, but imposes little if any constraint on what it can ask of those seeking to enter.
P.S. Alex Nowrasteh talks with several immigration lawyers who say they know of instances in which social media postings by persons under U.S. immigration scrutiny got vetted. More: James Taranto (quoting New York Times’s statement that “immigration officials do not routinely review social media as part of their background checks,” with “pilot programs” to do so in place since the fall of last year).
Update: contradicting widespread reports in the press, FBI Director James Comey now describes the couple as having expressed jihadist sentiment in private but not in public messages on social media [Washington Post] And the New York Times now apologizes for early, erroneous reporting based on anonymous sources which misled much of the press and commentariat into believing Malik’s extremist sentiments were in plain sight.