Judge orders removal of police Social Security numbers from Web
[Seattle, WA]

May 11, 2001, 07:30 AM
SEATTLE - A man who posted the home phone numbers, addresses and other personal information of area police officers on his Web site must remove their Social Security numbers, a judge has ruled.

The preliminary injunction was granted Thursday by King County Superior Court Judge Robert H. Alsdorf in a case brought by Kirkland, a suburb east of Lake Washington, against Bill Sheehan of Mill Creek and Aaron Rosenstein of Seattle, network engineers in Bothell who said they created the Web site to hold police accountable.

Sheehan and Rosenstein said they would remove the Social Security numbers immediately.

"I think it was a fair decision," Sheehan said. "We have made our point. We will continue to update the database with what we can." Sheehan said home phone numbers and addresses of police in 15 other local jurisdictions, including Seattle, will be posted in the next few months along with their names, ranks, salaries and birth dates.

Besides the Social Security numbers, lawyers for Kirkland sought the removal of home phone listings and addresses, saying they posed a risk to officers and their families, but Alsdorf held there was no "credible specific threat of harm."

"I wish we had been able to convince the judge that the other information should be taken down," assistant city attorney Bill Evans said, "but we're happy we got what we did. We're glad that the most private information is being removed." Kirkland's lawsuit remains pending.

Alsdorf wrote that the case posed a difficult challenge between conflicting values.

"It is hard to conceive of a broader invasion of privacy than freely disseminating the information to the entire world and rendering it instantaneously accessible to all," he wrote. "That being said, the First Amendment is a powerful right, and it does protect all speech, no matter how unpopular."

Alsdorf wrote that publication of addresses and phone numbers was political speech, protected under the Constitution, but that there could be no public good served by listing Social Security numbers.

Meanwhile, Sheehan remains embroiled in three other legal battles:

* His appeal of a 60-day jail sentence imposed Wednesday for failing to pay $70,000 owed to King County in a stolen property settlement.

* His lawsuit against the King County sheriff's office to obtain list of names of deputies with the same information he has posted for police, a case in which he was awarded almost $14,000 in lawyer fees last week.

* A lawsuit against him by the county jail staff that seeks to withhold the same information from him.

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