Civil and Human Rights

Justices Weigh Concrete Injuries in a Digital Age

By Marcia Coyle

 

The business community’s fear of massive class-action liability and consumers’ quest for privacy and accuracy in the Internet age collided before a divided U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in a case that involved the data collection website Spokeo Inc.

 

Those two themes hovered over the bedrock issue before the justices in Spokeo v. Robins: Did Congress have the power to give individuals the right to bring lawsuits for violations of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act alone, without having to show the traditional requirement in the Constitution of a concrete injury independent of the statute?…

 

On Spokeo’s side, the briefs reflect fears that a ruling for Robins will open the door to numerous class actions and massive potential liability, not only under the Fair Credit Reporting Act but similar statutes, too. On Robins’ side, the amicus briefs warn of the need to protect individual privacy increasingly at risk in the digital age and to maintain access to the courts to vindicate other rights created by federal statutes.

 

“We saw two diametric visions of the Constitution with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia seeming to side with Spokeo’s arguments, while Justices Kagan and [Sonia] Sotomayor saying if someone disseminates wrongful information about you that is something easily understood as harm to you,” said David Gans, civil rights project director at the Constitutional Accountability Center….

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