The Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act has been signed into law. This is a cause for celebration for judges and their families, as well as privacy advocates who recognize the danger of having a person’s address and phone number easily accessible online.
Surprisingly, however, some have objected to the law’s passage. While acknowledging that the legislation is well intentioned, they have concerns over its First Amendment implications, particularly as they apply to journalists.
Let’s get the most obviously baseless criticisms out of the way first – those that argue that the law just won’t work. This tweet (name withheld) is a good example:
"The bipartisan, bicameral Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act won't protect federal judges or their families. It will simply make it more difficult to identify ethical conflicts & keep citizens in control of our government."
This is simply not true.
What is Daniel’s Law?
Daniel’s Law prohibits individuals and businesses from sharing a federal judge’s personal information or their families’ online, if they receive a demand from the judge to not share that data. It also restricts data brokers from selling, purchasing or sharing information. And it even includes grants to state and local agencies to prune their existing databases.
The law doesn’t merely pertain to a judge’s home address – it also covers other data such as the judge’s birthday, the name of his or her spouse’s employer, and credit card information – all of which can be used to locate an address, phone number or other identifying information.
Yes, the law still requires enforcement – that’s what we do. But there is now a legal precedent for removing a federal judge’s private information from websites, and that provides a vital safeguard for judges against the recent and dramatic increase in incidents of harassment, vandalism and violence at their homes. There is no question that it will have a positive effect.
What are Critics Saying?
However, organizations and watchdog groups like Fix the Court and The Free Law Project believe the law is unconstitutional, and may challenge it in court. They fear the impact suppressing a judges’ personal information would have on lawful protest and official accountability. Journalists have expressed concern that they would no longer be able to access information they need to write a news story about a judge. They also object to judges’ spouses and family members receiving the same protection.
Such arguments may not hold sway, however, especially after last year when there were mass protests outside the homes of Supreme Court justices, accompanied by death threats and at least one assassination attempt that was foiled before it could take place. Most people, regardless of political affiliation, would agree that a judge’s home should be off-limits.
How Officials Responded to the Criticism
Senator Robert Menendez, one of the bipartisan supporters of this legislation, addressed critics’ concerns on Twitter. He affirmed that the law simply allows judges to request that the Administrative Office of the Courts remove personally sensitive information that could lead to identity theft, or threaten the physical safety of their families. And while doing so, the law still protects journalists’ ability to report on matters of public concern.
Menendez also cited legal experts who vetted the language of the bill to ensure that it is consistent with First Amendment protections. He ended his defense by writing “Must we wait for another judge or their family to be murdered before we provide these commonsense, basic protections?”
Thankfully, with the passage of Daniel’s Law, the answer is no.
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