A Virginia statute prohibiting the public disclosure of Social Security Numbers is unconstitutional as applied to a privacy advocate who posted publicly available land records containing unredacted Social Security Numbers as part of a privacy lobbying effort, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled. The court held that the display of the land records containing the Social Security Numbers was First Amendment-protected speech, and that the state's attempt to restrict the truthful publication of lawfully obtained information about a matter of public significance could be justified only "when narrowly tailored to a state interest of the highest order." The court concluded that Virginia's interest in protecting privacy might be a state interest of the highest order. However, because Virginia continued to permit court clerks to make land records containing SSNs publicly available online while a process to remove them retroactively was ongoing, the court further concluded that it could not be said that the application of the statute was narrowly tailored to serve the state's interest.
Ostergren v. Cuccinelli, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 15254 (4th Cir. Aug. 2, 2010) Download PDF