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Opening Arguments

Not-so-private lives

Justice Antonin Scalia recently made some remarks that seemed to indicate a less-than-concered attitude about privacy and its possible invasion:

Every single datum about my life is private? That's silly," Scalia [said]. . . .

Scalia said he was largely untroubled by such Internet tracking. "I don't find that particularly offensive," he said. "I don't find it a secret what I buy, unless it's shameful."

That intrigued a Fordham University Law law professor, who then gave an assignment to his class to compile a dossier on Scalia, using just public information they could find out about him. They managed to put together 15 pages:

Among its contents are Nino's home address, his home phone number, the movies he likes, his food preferences, his wife's personal e-mail address, and "photos of his lovely grandchildren."

"When the discrete bits of personal information were assembled at the end of the semester, the extent of the overall dossier and some of the particular items of readily available information on the web concerning his family and family life were astonishing to the class," Reidenberg wrote to us.

Scalia was asked to comment and did, suddenly seeming not so insensitive about privacy matters:

It is not a rare phenomenon that what is legal may also be quite irresponsible. That appears in the First Amendment context all the time. What can be said often should not be said. Prof. Reidenberg's exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since he was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any.

It's a fascinating look at what privacy might or might not be in an era when more and more is said by everybody about everybody else and less and less is thought to be off-limits for public consumption. I suspect if most of us knew what was available about us and easily obtainable, it would scare us to death. And the part about "discrete bits" from here and there being put together in a comprehensive portrait is really sobering.


Michael B-P
Thu, 04/30/2009 - 8:02pm

Scalia's remarks in response to being informed of the results of the class exercise illustrate a clever mind in the service of an ass.