Federal Judge Holds Statute Banning Publication of Social Security Numbers Is Unconstitutional,

when the statute is applied to a Web site's reposting of "unredacted public documents such as land and tax-lien records posted on government Web sites" that contain the numbers. The site operator is apparently using such postings to condemn the government's posting of such information: "As part of a campaign to draw attention to the issue, Ostergren routinely posts the Social Security numbers of high-profile individuals that she claims to have easily obtained from county and state government Web sites. The list includes former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan and several county clerks in Virginia."

The decision -- Ostergren v. McDonnell, handed down last Friday -- is quite narrow, focusing chiefly on the fact that the social security numbers were drawn from publicly available records, and were presented in the context of quotes from those records, rather than just as some freestanding list. I've argued before (though tentatively) that bans on publishing social security numbers are a rare example of a constitutionally permissible restriction on crime-facilitating speech. I didn't discuss, however, what happens when the laws are applied to republication of publicly available court records that themselves contain such numbers.