Court rules activist can post officials' Social Security numbers

I tweeted this yesterday, but thought it merited more comment.  According to an article in the Washington Post: "Betty "B.J." Ostergren wanted to persuade Virginia to take sensitive personal data off state Web sites. To make her point, she created her own site and then posted public records that included the Social Security numbers of government officials.

This week, a federal appellate court in Virginia ruled that Ostergren can keep those records on her site, The Virginia Watchdog. The court found that a 2008 law that prohibits publishing Social Security numbers violates Ostergren's constitutional right to free speech."

In no world does this make sense.  Social security numbers, like our social insurance numbers, are a personal identifier that are rife for abuse in the wrong hands. 

In Canada, even the use of someone's social insurance number, let alone its publication, requires specific consent.

I believe in the open data movement for government information - but there needs to be some real sober thought into what parts of that data ought to be withheld because it is personal or because there is some other legitimate need to protect it that outweighs the public's need / desire to see it.  We can't forget that once data is available online, the  concept of practical obscurity that we have relied on forever without really thinking about it, no longer works.