Sunday, April 5, 2009

Is The Internet Private?

Of course it isn't, since almost anything posted on the Internet can be viewed by anyone in the world with a computer and Internet access. That's one of the teachings of Moreno v. Hanford Sentinel (here), decided by the Fifth Appellate District. The plaintiff posted an "Ode to Coalinga" on her MySpace page, describing the many perceived defects of her hometown. She alleged that her former high school principal copied the poem from the internet and sent it to the local newspaper. The newspaper printed the poem as a letter to the editor, as a result of which the plaintiff's family received death threats and had to leave town, destroying her father's business. She sued the principal for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Court of Appeal held that plaintiff had no claim for invasion of privacy. What's on the internet is public information and can't be the basis for an invasion of privacy claim. Nor was such a claim stated because the principal supposedly tacked on the plaintiff's last name when he sent the Ode to the paper--her identity was easily verified from her MySpace site. But the court did hold--surprisingly, to my mind--that the plaintiff could sue the principal for intentional infliction of emotional distress, primarily because of his role as her former principal and the current principal of the plaintiff's sister. An interesting case, useful for reminding teenagers that once they post something on the Internet, they lose control over where it might go and what it might be used for.


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