July 21, 2015

Seattle privacy lawsuit: Irony, delicious as pie

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

The City of Seattle is lost in the deep dark forest of its progressive ideals—and yet it just can’t seem to see the forest for the tress.

As you may recall, PLF attorneys filed a lawsuit last week arguing that a city law authorizing trash collectors to inspect the contents of residential garbage cans for evidence of unlawful activities (compostable contraband) violated privacy rights.

Yesterday, the city responded with a (laughably evasive) press release, in which it defiantly insisted that the inspections somehow don’t violate Washington’s constitutionally enhanced privacy rights. Of course, the city fails to acknowledge a 1990 Washington Supreme Court opinion, holding that each person has a legitimate expectation that, absent a warrant, the contents of his or her garbage cans will remain private and free from government inspection when placed curbside for collection.

Here’s where things get a bit odd. At the same time the city was insisting that its warrantless mass-snooping of residential garbage cans doesn’t violate privacy rights, it adopted a resolution declaring privacy a basic human right.

Full stop.

Huh?

Yes, you read that right. Yesterday, the mayor issued another press release announcing that the same city council that approved the garbage snooping ordinance had unanimously approved Resolution 31598, “affirming privacy as a human right.” The resolution states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence [and that] everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference.”

Praising the resolution, one council member crowed that the “City of Seattle prides itself on being a leader in proactively protecting human rights beyond the status quo” and the recognition of privacy as a human right “is a monumental step toward extending human rights protections” in the city.

Funnily enough, we share the same goal. Protecting the basic right to privacy is exactly what our lawsuit is aiming to do.

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