Thursday, March 9, 2017

Court Blocks Public Officials Attempt to Remove Personal Identification from Website

In Publius v. Boyer-Vine the court granted a preliminary injunction preventing 14 Senators and 26 Assembly Members from demanding a website remove their personal information.  They were relying on Government Code §6254.21(c), which allows elected and appointed officials to demand personal information be removed from a website if they feel threatened.  The court held the statute violated the Plaintiff’s First Amendment Rights and the Commerce Clause. 

The Plaintiff was a Massachusetts resident and manager of the website  People on the website began an online discussion about a recent incident in California.  A blogger posted the names, home addresses, and phone numbers of California legislatures who supported several gun control bills.  Numerous legislators reported threats and demanded the California blogger remove the information pursuant to Government Code §6254.21.  The California blogger removed the information without incident.  However, during the discussion on one user re-posted all of the personal information.  Legislative Counsel learned the information had been re-posted and demanded the Plaintiff remove the information.  He sought injunctive relief, claiming §6254.21 violated his First Amendment Rights and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The court first determined the statute violated the First Amendment rights of the plaintiff because it was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.  The statute did not attempt to prevent true threats.  There is a difference between publishing private information and public information. The statute did not address the difference.  In this case, the information posted on line had come from public sources.  Additionally, it was underinclusive because it did not prohibit print media from disclosing personal information. 

The court also held the law violated the Commerce Clause.  The Plaintiff was a resident of Massachusetts being regulated by a California statute.  Regulating interstate commerce is a power held by the federal government.  The statute attempts to regulate information posted to the internet.  The court noted it is almost impossible for a state to regulate internet activities without projecting the legislation into other states.  The court found the practical effect of the statute was to attempt to control conduct outside of California.  Because of this practical effect the statute was found to violate the Commerce Clause.