D.C. Circuit Affirms|Privacy Rights

     (CN) – The privacy interests of acquitted defendants trump the public’s right to information about cases involving the Justice Department’s warrantless cellphone tracking, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
     Three years ago, the D.C. Circuit ordered the Justice Department to give the American Civil Liberties Union the case names and docket numbers for prosecutions in which the government had obtained cellphone tracking data without a warrant, if the defendant had been convicted.
     But that same federal appeals court ruled, 2-1, Friday the government did not need to disclose the same information for prosecutions in which the defendant was acquitted or the charges were dismissed.
     In these 229 cases, the government applied for a court order for defendant’s telephone data without showing probable cause.
     While the public has an interest in monitoring the government’s warrantless surveillance practices, “given the substantial privacy interest individuals have in controlling information concerning criminal charges for which they were not convicted, the department has properly withheld this information,” Judge David Tatel wrote for the majority.
     The court disagreed with the ACLU’s contention that the privacy rights of acquitted defendants were indistinguishable from those found guilty.
     “In our view, defendants whose prosecutions ended in acquittal or dismissal have a much stronger privacy interest in controlling information concerning those prosecutions than defendants who were ultimately convicted,” Tatel wrote. “Although the fact that such defendants were accused of criminal conduct may remain a matter of public record, they are entitled to move on with their lives without having the public reminded of their alleged but never proven transgressions.”
     Judge Janice Brown dissented, finding acquitted defendants’ privacy interest in the records relatively small compared to the robust public interest in the information, and consistently diminishing as technology progresses.
     “While I sympathize with the court’s protective instincts, I subscribe to Lady Macbeth’s drear insight: ‘What’s done cannot be undone.’ Redemption is still possible, but in the modern world, the right to be left alone, once forfeited, is gone for good. An individual who is indicted and tried has no privacy interest that can protect the public record of prosecution from disclosure – even if the ultimate outcome was acquittal or dismissal,” Brown wrote.

%d bloggers like this: