Senior Federal Employees Sue to Protect Privacy Rights
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Seven high-level federal government employees and four organizations representing such employees filed a landmark privacy protection lawsuit today against the United States. Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital and lawyers at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, the plaintiffs assert that the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, passed by Congress in April, violates the constitutional right to “informational privacy” of the federal employees by exposing their sensitive private financial data online where anyone in the world can obtain it.
The case (Senior Executives Association v. United States), filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland today, seeks to protect the right to privacy of some 28,000 Executive Branch employees, as well as their spouses and dependent children. Under the new law, all federal agencies must post online by August 31, 2012, the financial disclosure forms that senior civilian and military employees are required to file annually. Under the STOCK Act, any Internet user in the world will have access to these employees’ personal financial data – from their salaries and real estate transactions to their stock holdings, pension plans, savings and life insurance contracts, among dozens of other types of data. Internet users who access this sensitive personal data do not have to identify themselves or leave any record of what they view or why.
According to the lawsuit, the Internet posting of this financial data will cause federal employees and their families “an immediate and irretrievable loss of their most private and confidential financial information … Simply because they are public servants.”
This provision of the STOCK Act was adopted without a hearing or any real discussion, and has been widely challenged, including a July 19, 2012 letter to Congress from a former U.S. Attorney General, a former Secretary of Homeland Security, and former Directors of the CIA and the National Security Agency. They describe the law as handing information “on a silver platter” to foreign intelligence services that could be used to “harass career public servants who have access to the most sensitive information held by the U.S. Government.”
Jack McKay, a partner in the Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman’s Litigation/Arbitration group, and Arthur B. Spitzer, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, head the legal team that represents the individual government employees and the organizational plaintiffs.
“The reach of this law and its consequences are unprecedented,” McKay said. “What was originally supposed to make members of Congress subject to insider trading laws evolved into unregulated public access to the most intimate financial details of the thousands of government employees. The decision to post public servants’ financial data online was made without even a congressional hearing. The consequences for personal privacy and national security are extraordinary.”
“This is like putting your tax returns on the Internet for everyone to see,” said Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital. “Think about what that would mean to you. It’s a privacy disaster, and it’s compounded by the risk to employees’ safety and to our national security.”
Plaintiff Joshua Zimmerberg, who is Head of the Program on Physical Biology at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said, “I work hard on a government salary to help find cures for diseases that kill millions of Americans. I don’t write regulations that people have to obey, I don’t oversee government contracts, and I don’t help drug companies make profits. I’m prohibited from investing in any company that has anything to do with my work. There’s no good reason why identity thieves, financial scam artists, or my next-door neighbors should know everything about my family’s finances. I’ve been a victim of financial fraud in the past and the STOCK Act will just make it easier for that to happen again.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting the August 31 Internet posting of employees’ financial data by the government.
About Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
Pillsbury is a full-service law firm with a keen industry focus on energy & natural resources, financial services, real estate & construction, and technology. Based in the world’s major financial, technology and energy centers, Pillsbury counsels clients daily on global regulatory, litigation and corporate matters.
About the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital
The ACLU of the Nation’s Capital is the Washington DC affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, and has been a leader for many years in protecting the free speech, due process and privacy rights of government employees.
SOURCE Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP