Showing posts with label EU. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EU. Show all posts

Friday, June 4, 2021

First Amendment advocate counsels caution, but doesn't rebuff, American right to be forgotten

Gene Policinski, Freedom Forum Senior Fellow for the First Amendment, published an op-ed last week for the "First Five" blog in which he counseled caution, but did not gainsay, newsroom "fresh start," or "right to be forgotten" (RTBF), programs.

Motivated in part by European notions of personal data protection, or informational privacy, especially RTBF, fresh start programs give persons covered in past news an opportunity to apply for the erasure of their coverage from online archives.  For NPR in February, David Folkenflik and Claire Miller reported on trending fresh start programs at major U.S. news outlets, such as The Boston Globe, "Revisiting the Past for a Better Future."  The NPR stories observed that these programs have come about in part because of European legal norms, even for newspapers beyond the reach of European legal jurisdiction.

In 2013, I wrote in a law review article that Americans' expectations of privacy, including RTBF, are in fact consonant with evolving European norms, but American law has been slow to keep pace.  The twin notions of finite punishment for past wrongs and of a second chance for persons who have paid their dues are quintessentially American, I wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in 2014.  Those values are reflected, for example, in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and the Ban the Box campaign.

A prohibitive challenge to RTBF norms in the United States has been the First Amendment, which generally prohibits regulation of the republication of lawfully obtained and truthful information.  Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, the free-speech absolutist bent of the First Amendment contrasts with a more flexible European approach to rights balancing.  Nothing about the First Amendment, however, precludes a private journalistic enterprise, such as the Globe, from erasing content voluntarily.

Like RTBF itself, fresh start programs have been criticized by free speech and mass communication scholars.  They remind us that journalism is the "first rough draft of history."  Tinkering with archives therefore vests private actors with a weighty, not to mention expensive, responsibility on behalf of the public.  Fresh start advocates point out that this work is not dissimilar to the exercise of news judgment in the first instance.  But the perspective problem is not eliminated by time.  There is no way to be sure that our present-day second-guessing of the historical record is more fair and objective than the original judgment, nor sufficiently preservationist for the future.

Old Slave Mart Museum, Charleston, S.C.
(RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Just last week, I visited the Old Slave Mart Museum and other historical sites in Charleston, S.C.  To my eyes, the casual treatment of persons as property in the content of news media in times of slavery, as well as racism evident in later media during Jim Crow, is evidence of horrific injustice and a powerful reminder not to take for granted that one's present vision is free of bias.  What if that record had been erased, rather than preserved?  Could Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s "Finding Your Roots" have identified Ben Affleck's slave-owning ancestor (NPR) if history were redacted?

At the same time, I am an advocate for RTBF in some form, just as I support Ban the Box.  I am devoted to the First Amendment.  But digital media, that is, an internet that "never forgets," confronts our society with a new and qualitatively different challenge from any we have faced before.  Viktor Mayer-Schönberger well described in his 2011 book, Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, how forgetting, in addition to remembering, is an essential and well evolved part of human social culture.  A failure to forget is an existential threat.

Journalist and academic Deborah L. Dwyer has developed a useful and thought-provoking set of fresh start resources for journalists at her website, Unpublishing the News, cited by Policisnki.  I don't pretend to know whether fresh start, or European RTBF, or some other approach is the best solution, nor whether any of these models will stand the test of time.  I do believe that feeling our way forward is fascinating and necessary.

The op-ed is Gene Policinski, Perspective: News Outlets Need Caution in Offering a "Fresh Start," Freedom Forum (May 26, 2021).

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Court thins line between hate speech, free speech, while deepening European continental divide

Mural in Sofia, Bulgaria
(2019 photo by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
A politician's racist hate speech and Holocaust denial were too readily protected by the freedom of speech in Bulgaria, the European Court of Human Rights opined in a February decision that challenges free expression and deepens tension between western and eastern Europe.

In litigation by Citizens Against Hatred and allied NGOs, plaintiffs sued in Sofia for harassment and incitement to discrimination.  Their target was Volen Siderov, a far right-wing politician, founder of the "Attack" party, who beat the drum of Bulgarian nationalism in two books and a speech to Parliament.  Siderov perpetuated denigrating stereotypes including that Jews manufactured the Holocaust as a scheme for financial extortion and that Roma people are "prone to crime and depravity."  His hate speech also targeted Turks, Catholics, and LGBTQ persons. 

Siderov's speech did not target individuals, nor call for any specific act of discrimination or violence.  The Sofia court ultimately dismissed the claims, unable to find that any one person had suffered injury or loss as a result of Siderov's vitriol.  The Sofia City Court and the Bulgarian Supreme Court of Cassation affirmed, holding, with reference to European jurisprudence, that Siderov's speech was protected by the freedom of expression.

In Strasbourg, the European Court of Human Rights held that the claimants had been denied a fair hearing in Bulgarian courts, a violation of their rights of dignity and freedom from discrimination under articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Maybe Siderov's speech was protected expression under article 10 of the European Convention.  But the Bulgarian courts had been too quickly dismissive of the plaintiffs' claims.

"Expression on matters of public interest is in principle entitled to strong protection under Article 10 of the Convention, whereas expression that promotes or justifies violence, hatred, xenophobia or another form of intolerance cannot normally claim protection," the court explained.  "[I]t may be justified to impose even serious criminal-law sanctions on journalists or politicians in cases of hate speech or incitement to violence."

Volen Siderov
(Flickr by Nedko Ivanov CC BY 2.0)

The Bulgarian courts had not drawn an appropriate balance.  "Although the courts acknowledged the vehemence of the statements, they downplayed their capacity to stigmatise Jews as a group and arouse hatred and prejudice against them, and apparently saw them as no more than part of a legitimate debate on matters of public concern."

The decision strikes a note of discord in both westerly and easterly directions.  As a matter of free speech absolutism, American courts have been consistently resistant to regulation of hate speech.  Academics have twisted themselves into knots to reconcile the civil-rights-era First Amendment with a 1952 Supreme Court decision that momentarily sanctioned criminal libel based on race, color, creed, or religion.  Meanwhile, the First Amendment continues to be a perplexing problem for would-be regulators who link disinformation with populist nationalism of Siderov's ilk.

At the same time, the European Court decision is bound to aggravate a burgeoning resistance in Bulgaria, and throughout the east, to perceived western European cultural imperialism.  Bulgarian courts in 2018 ruled unconstitutional, and the Bulgarian Parliament was prepared to vote down, the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women, "the Istanbul Convention" (Euractiv).  The politicization of an issue so seemingly uncontroversial is a story revealing of a deeper continental divide, and the court's strike against Siderov plays right into perceived grievances.

The case is Behar & Gutman v. Bulgaria, No. 29335/13 (Eur. Ct. Hum. Rts. Feb. 16, 2021) (LawEuro).

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

EU sustainability reg reaches companies in U.S., world

A sustainability regulation from the EU promises to be the next big compliance hurdle deployed on the continent to affect transnational businesses based in the United States and around the world.

The regulation is the subject of a lecture today by my friend and co-author Gaspar Kot in the 2020-21 lecture series, "Contemporary Challenges in Global and American Law," from the Faculty of Law and Administration at Jagiellonian University (JU) in Kraków, Poland, and the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C.

Gaspar Kot
Kot speaks today on "Sustainable Investment – The New Heart of EU Financial Market Regulation."  His lecture will be published in the CUA YouTube playlist [now available & below].  Here is the abstract.

With increasing concern for global climate change and following the 2015 Paris Agreement obligations, the European Union adopted the Regulation [2019/2088] on Sustainability-Related Disclosures in the Financial Services Sector (SFDR), which took effect beginning March 10, 2021. The SFDR, along with draft regulatory technical standards and the EU’s Taxonomy Regulation, require financial market participants to incorporate sustainability considerations in their governance frameworks, as well as to prepare disclosures and reporting to investors about environmental, social, and governance factors. The EU sustainable investment regime reaches US entities offering investment funds and financial services to European clients. The EU General Data Protection Regulation sent shock waves across the Atlantic and required many US lawyers and businesses quickly to become expert in GDPR requirements. The EU’s ESG requirements are likely to have a similar dramatic border-crossing impact.

Kot is a markets, products, and structuring lawyer for UBS, the Swiss investment bank and financial services company with worldwide offices including more than 5,000 employees in Poland. He heads the asset management stream of the legal department in the UBS Kraków office.

When I last wrote about the winter-spring line-up for the lecture series, the following spring offerings were yet to be announced.  It's not too late now to sign up for four more programs.

  • April 14 – Katarzyna Wolska-Wrona, "Approaches to Combating Gender-Based Violence: The Council of Europe Istanbul Convention and a US Perspective"
  • April 27 – Mary Graw Leary, "#MeToo and #Black Lives Matter: Conflicting Objectives or Opportunities for Advancement of Shared Priorities?"
  • May 12 – Regina T. Jefferson, "Examining United States Retirement Savings Policy through the Lens of International Human Rights Principles"
  • June 2 – Wictor Furman, "European and US Perspectives on Investment Fund Regulation"

My students in comparative law especially might be interested in the April 14 program by attorney Wolska-Wrona, an expert with the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.  Our class looked at eastern European skepticism of the Istanbul Convention as part of our examination of contemporary issues in EU law.  The matter remains timely; Turkey's withdrawal triggered protests just two days ago and was condemned by the Biden Administration.  I also look forward especially to the presentation of Professor Jefferson, who is a gem of a scholar and colleague.

[UPDATED, March 26, with video, below.]

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Comparative law talks look to Biden Administration, covid-19 aftermath, EU market, juvenile justice

The winter-spring lecture series, "Contemporary Challenges in Global and American Law," from the Faculty of Law and Administration at Jagiellonian University (JU) in Kraków, Poland, and the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., is free and already under way.

The series promises an exciting lineup, continuing from six lectures in fall 2020, all of which may be viewed online.  This semester's offerings kicked off last week, January 13, with London-Milan lawyer Vincenzo Senatore talking about covid-19 as force majeure in contract law, and comparing common law and civil law approaches.

One week from today, January 27, Professor Geoffrey P. Watson, director of the Comparative and International Law Institute at CUA, will talk on "International Law and the New Biden Administration."  Free registration is now open.

Stryjniak
Here's the line-up for February and March.  Watch the website for more in April and May.  Free registration is required for contemporaneous participation.

  • February 10 - Katarzyna Stryjniak, "EU and US Budget-Making: Process, Politics, and Policy in a COVID-Challenged World" 
  • February 24 - Heidi Mandanis Schooner, "How Well Did the Post-2008 Financial Crisis Regime Prepare the World for the COVID-19 Pandemic?"
  • March 2 - Cara H. Drinan, "The War on Kids: Progress and the Path Forward on Juvenile Justice"
  • March 24 - Gaspar Kot, "Sustainable Investment – The New Heart of EU Financial Market Regulation"

The lecture series grew out of a summer 2020 pilot program in which I was privileged to participate, and it's been a welcome way, during the pandemic, to connect with colleagues in Europe and take pride in former students.  Now a legal and policy officer with the European Commission, Kasia Stryjniak is a graduate of JU and CUA master's programs.  Gaspar Kot is near completion of the Ph.D. at JU, holds an LL.M. from CUA, coordinates the LL.M. program at JU, and was my co-author on a recent book chapter.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Poland scholars explain turmoil in streets over court decision nearly outlawing abortion; what next?

Protesters take to the streets in Kraków on October 25. (Silar CC BY-SA 4.0)
Social stability in Poland has been increasingly shaky since populist politics has threatened the independence of the judiciary in recent years.  Professor Leah Wortham wrote about the issue and kindly spoke to my Comparative Law class one year ago (before Zoom was cool).

Recently tensions have reached a boiling point.  In October, the nation's constitutional court outlawed nearly all abortions (Guardian).  Protestors have taken to the streets in the largest numbers since the fall of communism, The Guardian reported, confronting riot police and right-wing gangs.

Friend and colleague Elizabeth Zechenter, an attorney, visiting scholar at Emory College, and president of the Jagiellonian Law Society, writes: "Poland is in upheaval, after the Constitutional Tribunal restricted even further one of the most strict anti-abortion laws in Europe.  I and several other Polish women academics have gotten together, and we created a webinar, trying to offer an analysis, legal, cultural, sociological, etc."

The scholars' webinar is available free on YouTube.  Below the inset is information about the program.  Please spread the word.

Women Strikes In Poland: What is Happening, and Why?

Since the fateful decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny or TK) on October 22, 2020—further restricting one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Europe—Poland saw massive, spontaneous demonstrations and civic protests in most cities, small and big, and even villages. Protests have been continuing since the day of TK’s decision and show no signs of abating.

To explain what is happening, we have assembled a panel of academics and lawyers to clarify the current legal situation, to analyze the scope of new anti-abortion restrictions, to explain whether this new law may be challenged under any of the EU laws applicable to Poland, and what might be political implications of doing that, as well as offer a preliminary cultural, linguistic, anthropological, and sociological analysis of the recent events.

Contents

0:00:00-0:03:17 Introduction: Bios of Speakers, Disclaimers

Legal Panel

0:03:17-0:26:00 Elizabeth M. Zechenter, J.D., Ph.D., "October 2020 Abortion Decision by the Constitutional Tribunal: Analysis and Legal Implications"

0:26:00-0:46:00 Agnieszka Kubal, Ph.D., "Human Rights Implication of the Decision by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal from 22 October 2020"

0:46:00-0:59:00 Agnieszka Gaertner, J.D., LLM, "Abortion Under EU Law"

Panel: Culture and Language of Protest

0:59:00-1:31:00 Katarzyna Zechenter, Ph.D., "Uses of Language by the Protesters, the Polish Catholic Church, and the Ruling Political Party 'Law and Justice' (PiS)"

Panel: Sociological and Anthropological

1:31:00-1:49:00 Joanna Regulska, Ph.D., "Struggle for Women's Rights in Poland"

1:49:00-2:12:00 Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, Ph.D., "Augmented Reality, Young Adults, and Civic Engagement"

Praise for the Webinar

"Wow! That was, without a doubt, one of the most informative, fascinating, engaging, and powerful webinars I have ever attended."

"All of us in your virtual audience 'voted with our feet' ... i.e., it is generally considered that 90 minutes is an audience's absolute maximum attention span for an online webinar, particularly since everyone these days is simply 'Zoomed-out' (over-Zoomed), in this era of COVID-19. But YOUR audience stayed with you for a marathon 2 hours and 45 minutes (and it felt like a sprint, not a marathon)!"

"A high tribute to you and your sister (not fellow!) panelists."

Disclaimers

The webinar was organized impromptu in response to numerous calls to analyze Poland's ongoing protests. The goal of the webinar was to provide a non-partisan review of the evolving situation and better understand the legal, cultural, and sociological underpinnings of the Constitutional Tribunal’s anti-abortion decision that resulted in such massive country-wide protests.

The opinions expressed in the seminar are those of the speakers alone who are not speaking as representatives of any institution; the main goal has been to advance understanding of the situation.

Given the urgency to offer at least a preliminary analysis (and in light of the continuously evolving situation), most speakers had less than 24 hours to prepare their remarks. We apologize for any imperfections.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Peace, power at stake in elections around the world

Pres. Ouattara
(s t CC BY 2.0)
With the U.S. election looming, it's easy to miss crucial elections going on elsewhere in the world, such as Ivory Coast and Moldova, with potential ramifications for global peace.

Votes are being counted now in the Ivory Coast presidential election.  Incumbent Alassane Ouattara is hoping for a third term despite vigorous opposition.  A 78-year-old economist, Ouattara has been president since 2011, after the disputed 2010 election resulted in civil war.  The Ivory Coast constitution limits a president to two terms, but the Ouattara side claims that a constitutional revision in 2016 reset the term clock.

The Sahel
(Munion CC BY-SA 3.0)


An especially sensitive issue in the West African context, the dispute over term limits gives Ouattara's run an uncomfortable overtone of authoritarianism.  Ivory Coast is a key commercial player in West Africa, so stability or instability there ripples throughout the region.  One way or the other, the influence of Ivory Coast's outcome could be especially impactful as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and western Nigeria all struggle to get a grip on lawlessness and violence in the western Sahel.

Frmr. P.M. Sandu
(Accent TV 2015 CC BY 3.0)
Meanwhile, voters are at the polls today in Moldova to choose between starkly different visions for the country's future.  Former socialist party leader Igor Dodon, president since 2016, faces former prime minister Maia Sandu in the country's fourth election since 1991 independence.  Dodon carries the endorsement of Russian President Vladimir Putin and resolves to look eastward for Moldova's future.  Sandu thinks the best hope to pull Moldova out of chronic economic stagnation lies westward, in the European model of development.  

Pres. Dodon
(Russian Pres. Press & Info. Ofc. CC BY 3.0)
I wrote last year about my visit to the "breakaway state" of Transnistria, which embodies the depth of divide over Moldova's future.  Yet so much more is at stake; Moldova stands as a bellwether for the region, indicative of future European or Russian influence.  And with Brexit occurring on Europe's opposite border, the continental union's prospects for eastern growth might speak to the future of the union itself.

Both elections, in Ivory Coast and Moldova, are plagued with reports and denials of poll tampering and improper influence over voters.  And people in both countries fear for the peace in the wake of an outcome favoring any side.

Protestors in Algiers, March 2019
(Khirani Said CC BY-SA 4.0)
Even these elections are not the only ones in the world right now.  The "Georgian Dream" party looks to have won third-term control of Georgia's parliament, lengthening a long-term one-party rule there that opponents say has failed to deliver economic prosperity for working people.  And today, voters in Algeria, where I also visited in 2019, opine on anti-corruption constitutional reforms hoped to quell protests that persisted after the 2019 election of presidential challenger Abdelmadjid Tebboune failed to deliver the prompt changes that the street wanted.

The American election is only one among many in the world this fall in which prosperity and peace might hang in the balance.  I'm hoping that whatever happens here on November 3, we model order and rationality.

Monday, September 23, 2019

EU frets over Privacy Shield adequacy, and NGO insists, emperor still naked

The Commission of the European Union is reviewing the U.S.-EU Privacy Shield framework for conformity with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and NGO AccessNow is again demanding an inadequacy finding.

A lot is at stake.  For the uninitiated, European regulators have a dramatically different take on the protection of personal information than the free-wheeling free marketeers of the United States.  I've written some about the problem here and elsewhere (e.g., here and here), arguing that the American people are not so far from European privacy norms, but it's our law that lags behind the democratic will.  For my money, the definitive macro analysis of why American and European approaches to privacy have differed is James Q. Whitman's.  Anyway, the GDPR does not allow the export from Europe of information to countries that do not comport with its privacy protections, and that creates a monumental problem for the trans-Atlantic flow of not only information, but commerce.

The problem is not new and existed under the GDPR's predecessor law, the 1995 Data Protection Directive (DPD).  A number of mechanisms were devised to work around the problem, and they were approved by European regulators under the umbrella of "the Safe Harbor agreement."  But it's widely understood, at least on the European side, that Safe Harbor was something of a sham: No one with a straight face could argue that U.S. law was comparable to the DPD.  Safe Harbor in practice comprised mostly industry standards, voluntarily adopted and barely enforced by U.S. regulators.  There's also an important piece of this problem in the vein of national security, government spying, and personal information; I'm not even getting into that.

Privacy Shield is stronger than Safe Harbor, but the GDPR is a lot stronger than the DPD.  There have been remarkable advancements in privacy law in some states, notably California, in the EU direction.  And quite a number of court challenges have followed, winding their way through the process, some derived from objections in the commercial sphere, some the civil rights sphere: you've probably heard of "the right to be forgotten."  But our patchwork state laboratories hardly sum reassurance to Europe.  So in the absence of a comprehensive peace offering at the federal level, the debate over the EU's adequacy determination regarding Privacy Shield pretty much boils down to whether or not we're going to admit that the emperor is naked.

AccessNow, a global NGO and sponsor of RightsCon, has consistently called for honesty about the emperor's sorry state.  A recent memo calls on the Commission to rule Privacy Shield inadequate, and AccessNow has invited republication of a new infographic in support of its position.  I hereby oblige. It's past time we get serious about protecting personal information in the United States and stop commercial exploitation of human identity upon industry's abusive invocations of civil rights such as the freedom of speech and freedom to contract.

[UPDATE, 23 Oct. 2019, at 13:53 U.S. EDT: Privacy Shield still good, per EC report issued today.]

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Popular singer's 'right to be forgotten' outweighs free speech in Italian case over archival video and biting commentary

Because Manchester City FC might need it after today's derby match, let's consider the right to be forgotten.

As an aspect of European, and increasingly global, data protection law, "the right to be forgotten," or right to erasure, unsettles the tummies of American media advocates.  The right to erasure runs up against the presumptive rule of U.S. First Amendment law that there can be no punishment for the republication of truthful information lawfully obtained.  Read more about that here (predating implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation).  The Italian Court of Cassation has issued a potentially important decision at the intersection of the right to erasure and the freedom of expression.  

Hat tip @TheItalianLawJournal.  For a few months to come, or until a better translation comes to light, I'm parking a very rough Google Translate rendition of the ruling here in PDF.  The translations that follow here are mine, refining the Google Translate rendering. The original court decision can be found here.


Antonello Venditti by Angela_Anji (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The case stemmed from a TMZ-style confrontation by an RAI-1 "Live Life" («La vita in diretta») crew of Italian singer Antonello Venditti (Facebook) in 2000.  I've not seen the video, but Venditti apparently resisted the interrogators with sufficient gruffness that he earned his way onto the program's 2005 "ranking of the most obnoxious and grumpy characters in the entertainment world."  The story occasioned rebroadcast of the 2000 segment, along with commentary mocking his diminished fame in the intervening years.  Antonello took offense and sued, claiming "a right to be forgotten" attached to the 2000 video. 

Of peculiar resonance with current events in the United States, the Italian court took note of a German right-to-erasure case about "an affair in which a German citizen, who held a major political and business position in Germany, had requested the erasure of information from the web relating to an episode of collusion with Russian crime dating back several years earlier, republished several years after."  The Court of Justice of the EU ruled that "the public's interest in information prevailed over the individual's interest in oblivion."  However, the Italian court observed, the ruling resulted from a fact-intensive inquiry.

The court must engage with "the search for the right balance between the interest of Internet users in information and the fundamental rights of the person," the Italian court explained.  "Therefore, the editor of a newspaper that stores in its historical archive on the internet the news, making it available to a potentially unlimited number of people, is required to prevent, through the dissemination of even remote facts, without any meaningful and current public interest, possible harm to the right to be forgotten by the people who were involved."

The freedom of expression must yield to the right to erasure, the court held, upon analysis according to five factors:

  1. the contribution made by the dissemination of the image or of the news to a matter of public interest;
  2. the actual and current interest in the dissemination of the image or news (for reasons of justice, police, or protection of the rights and liberties of others, or for scientific, educational, or cultural purposes), to be considered absent in case of prevalence of a popular interest [italics added; in original, divulgativo: I'm not sure how to translate that and don't think "popular" or "informed" is right], or, worse, merely economic or commercial interest of the subject that spreads the news or the image; 
  3. the high degree of notoriety of the subject represented, for the economic or political reality of the country;
  4. the methods used, for the particular position held in public life, and, in particular, to obtain and give information, which must be truthful (because it is drawn from reliable sources, and with a diligent research work), disseminated in ways that are not excessive for information purposes, in the interest of the public, and free from insinuations or personal considerations, so as to highlight an exclusive objective interest in the new dissemination;
  5. the preventive information about the publication or transmission of the news or image at a distance of time, in order to allow the interested party the right of reply before its disclosure to the general public.
Applying its multi-factor test, the court decided that RAI's interest in the rebroadcast video segment was outweighed by Antonello's privacy and data protection rights.  The court below had erred by finding Antonello's fame dispositive.  Reminding one of the analysis of Elmer Gertz in U.S. defamation lore, the court held that Antonello's large public following "certainly" did "not invest[ him] with a primary role in national public life."  Moreover, RAI's purpose, five years on, lacked merit. The court found it "undeniable that the reiterated broadcast ... had [the] unique purpose of allowing the inclusion of the singer ... in a ranking of ... 'the most obnoxious and grumpy of the entertainment world,' invented by the same broadcaster, allowing, in this way, the satisfaction of an interest that is exclusively informative [again, divulgativo], for commercial purposes, and for the television operator's audience."  The broadcaster's derogatory comments about Antonello's fame in 2005 aggravated the offense, the court added.  

The court also rejected "satire" as a defense.  The representation of Antonello was not "paradoxical, surreal and hyperbolic critique," but referred to "true fact," "clearly directed to a mere and unjustified denigration of the artist."  The broadcaster sought to use the 2000 video to represent Antonello in 2005 as "a singer, for years, in decline."

This case is the very stuff of American media advocates' nightmares.  Newspapers decry the right to erasure as a threat to online archives—though representations in archives, as archives, are readily factually distinguishable from the Antonello case.  The more realistic threat would be to the "TMZ"/"Talk Soup" format of entertainment media, or even the clever uses of archival video that have become the staple of commentary on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Last Week with John Oliver.  Certainly under a rule such as the Italian court employed, broadcasters, even straight news broadcasters, would have to take more care with their use of B roll.  

I've advocated in favor of evolving U.S. privacy law toward European data protection norms.  But the Italian court went too far here, lending credence to American nay-saying.  I fault the court's analysis of Antonello as, in U.S. terms, a "private figure."  The lower court got it right in finding Antonello's public status dispositive relative to this RAI commentary.  It's especially telling and troubling that as to the satire argument—the RAI program seems on the mild side of the Talk Soup genre—the court faulted RAI commenters for the truth in their observation of Antonello's waning fame.  The court set up the Italian judiciary to be a "super editor" of popular media, an arbiter of taste.  American courts appropriately struggle with newsworthiness determinations in privacy law because they do not want that job.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Intimate large parties and the duty to protect privacy



I had to take a blog break over the holidays in order to get a hefty book read and to write a review of it.  I’ll post on that when it comes closer to publication.  Meanwhile, my, how the world has changed!  Let me kick off the new year with a look at some related developments in privacy law.

As Marion Oswald of the University of Winchester wrote recently for the journal of Information Communication & Technology Law (open source), to paraphrase, privacy ain’t what it used to be.  Oswald opened with a quote from The Great Gatsby, so it goes without saying that that needs to be reiterated here.  She wrote,

At one of the Great Gatsby’s spectacular parties, the golf champion Jordan Baker remarked to Nick Carraway that she likes large parties: “They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

From that paradox, Oswald builds the case that privacy must be redefined to protect individuals in the digital world.  She observes the inadequacy of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” (REP) test—the U.S. Fourth Amendment standard—given the objective test’s tendency to drive itself to extinction in a world of objectively diminishing privacy.  Kade Crockford with the ACLU of Massachusetts articulates this point brilliantly in her lectures.  Oswald is not the first to reach her conclusion, but she does so compellingly.

Two recent cases, from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, reached different conclusions on the question of a corporate defendant’s duty to safeguard private data.  The cases show the struggle under way in U.S. courts to do just what Oswald proposed—to redefine privacy in the digital age.  The United States is increasingly at odds with Europe, and for that matter the rest of the world, on this question.  Heralded as a modern human right in Europe, data protection is a burgeoning global legal field—and corporate obligation.

Duty

First, a quick primer on duty in U.S. tort law.

Tort law in the United States usually provides for a “duty” by “default” in negligence—that is, all persons owe to all other a persons a duty to exercise reasonable care (or not to act negligently), to avert harm to all others.  But the default rule of duty is subject to some important limitations.   

One limitation is the economic loss rule, which circumscribes negligence liability.  The rule precludes a plaintiff’s action for nonphysical, economic injury alone.  There are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and some scholars even think it’s not really a rule at all.  For example, negligent misrepresentation, which is like fraud but without intent, can be supported by economic loss within the context and expectations of a business relationship.

Defamation and privacy torts can generate what looks like economic injury, but really are animated by their own, sui generis classes of damages to reputation and personality.  U.S. privacy torts push in the European direction, but generally do not protect data voluntarily disclosed to third parties, such as employers and banks—a relation of the REP problem.  That means no protection in privacy torts for financial data, even though it’s the stuff of identity theft.

The other limitation on duty by default is that U.S. law imposes no affirmative duty to protect, or to render aid.  This rule, too, is subject to many exceptions, such as a parent’s duty to protect a child, contractual and statutory duties to protect, and a duty not to abandon a rescue undertaken.

Here like in privacy law, European legal codes diverge from U.S. common law with a greater willingness to impose affirmative duty.  In the United States, the affirmative-duty limitation also can relieve a corporate entity of a duty to safeguard data when the injury to the plaintiff is caused much more immediately by an intervening bad actor, such as the hacker or identity thief.  (The problem in proximate causation is integrally related.)

So on to the cases.  Remember, "[i]t takes two to make an accident."

Pennsylvania

A January 12 Pennsylvania court decision, Dittman v. UPMC (Leagle) held that an employer had no duty to safeguard employees’ private information on a workplace computer.  (Hat tip to Richard Borden at Robinson + Cole.)  University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) employees numbering 62,000 alleged disclosure of personal information in a data breach, resulting in the theft of identities and of tax refunds.

The court applied a five-factor test for duty: 

1. the relationship between the parties;
2. the social utility of the actor's conduct;
3. the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred;
4. the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and,
5. the overall public interest in the proposed solution.

UPMC prevailed in common pleas and superior courts, the latter 2-1, arguing that it owed no duty to protect the plaintiff’s interests.  On the affirmative duty question, the court pointed to attenuated causation and professed willingness to defer to the state legislature.  As summarized by Brian J.Willett for the Reed Smith Technology Law Dispatch

The Superior Court observed that the social utility of electronic information storage is high, and while harm from data breaches is foreseeable, an intervening third party stealing data is a superseding cause.

Additionally, the Court explained that a judicially created duty of care would be unnecessary to motivate employers to protect employee information, as “there are still statutes and safeguards in place to prevent employers from disclosing confidential information” in addition to business considerations.

Finally, the Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that creating a duty in this context would not serve the public interest; rather, it would interrupt the deliberative legislative process and expend judicial resources needlessly.

The court then bolstered its conclusion by pointing to the economic loss rule as well. 

Massachusetts

Just before the holiday break in December, a Massachusetts Appeals Court also decided a case in which the plaintiff alleged an employer’s negligence in safeguarding private data—though the plaintiff was a client of the employer rather than an employee.

The facts recited by the court in Adams v. Congress Auto Insurance Agency, Inc. (Justia), have the makings of a docudrama.  According to the court, Thomas was fleeing police at high speed when he crashed his car into Adams's.  Thomas was driving the car of his girlfriend, Burgos, so Adams claimed against Burgos’s auto insurance.  Meanwhile Burgos was both customer and customer service manager of defendant insurance agency Congress.  She reported her car stolen and filed her own insurance claim. 

Adams could identify Thomas.  So Burgos used her computer access at work to identify Adams and passed his identity to Thomas.  Thomas then phoned Adams, impersonated a state police officer, and threatened Adams: “‘Shut the F up and get your car fixed or you will have issues,’” the court purported to quote.  Though I bet Thomas didn’t say just “F.”

Adams sued Congress on multiple theories, including negligent failure to safeguard private data.  At the trial level, according to the appeals court, “the motion judge . . . rul[ed] that expert testimony was required to establish whether the agency owed a duty to Adams to safeguard his personal information, what that duty entailed, and whether the agency breached that duty.”

It’s odd that the motions judge sought expert testimony, because, as the appeals court aptly observed, duty is unique among the four elements of negligence—duty, breach, proximate cause, and injury—for being purely a question of law, guided by public policy.  Courts do not ordinarily hear expert testimony on what the law is.  The theory goes that figuring that out is the judge’s main job.  (Too bad, or being a law professor would be more lucrative.  I was gently tossed from the witness stand once when a lawyer made a valiant but futile attempt to squeeze me past the rule.)

Unlike the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the Massachusetts Appellate Court found its way to a legal duty.  The court held “that the agency had a legal duty to Adams, a member of a large but clearly defined class of third parties, to prevent its employee’s foreseeable misuse of the information that Adams provided to process his automobile insurance claim.”  Where the Pennsylvania court had pointed to statute to justify judicial restraint, the Massachusetts court pointed to state data breach law to show that the legislature had green-lighted legal duty (albeit "a single green light, minute and far away").

“Just as those with physical keys to the homes of others have a duty of reasonable care to preserve their security,” the Massachusetts court reasoned, “companies whose employees have access to the confidential data of others have a duty to take reasonable measures to protect against the misuse of that data.”  Indeed, the court cited a keys case as applicable precedent.  The court made no fuss over the rule of affirmative duty or the rule of economic loss.  In a discussion of causation, the court seemed content to resort to foreseeability on the facts.

Summary judgment for defendant Congress was vacated, and the case was remanded for trial.

Conclusion

Advocates who wish to block European-style data protection in the United States use the availability of state tort law remedies as one tool in the toolbox to argue that U.S. law already sufficiently safeguards personal data from both sides of the Atlantic.  That’s not true.  Not yet.

Data protection in the United States is confounded by the rules of affirmative duty and economic loss.  And that’s not bad; those rules exist for sound public policy reasons.  They also are excepted for sound reasons.

I’ve written before (e.g., here and here) that popular thinking and expectations with respect to individual privacy are converging in the United States and Europe, even if a legal bridge lags behind.  Common law negligence can be a vital building block of that bridge.  But it’s a work in progress.

“‘Don’t believe everything you hear, Nick.’”