Gayblack Canadian Man

Foreign Policy Analysis
2019 Lile Moot Court Finals

2019 Lile Moot Court Finals


MARSHAL: All rise. Oyez, oyez, oyez. Those persons having business
before the Honorable, the United States Court of
Appeals for the 12th Circuit, are admonished to draw near
and give your attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States
and this Honorable Court. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Please be seated. Well, we have a full house. Does the crier have any
further announcements? Then, let’s proceed with the
appellants on the first issue. Welcome, Mr. Dickman. Whenever you’re ready. HENRY DICKMAN: Mr. Chief
Judge, may it please the court. My name is Henry Dickman, and
together with my co-counsel Megan Merz, we represent
the appellant defendant in this case, Justice Connect. Justice Connect seeks the
reversal of the district court’s orders in full. I’ll be handling the issue
of Article III standing for the negligence
claim, and my co-counsel will address the Video
Privacy Protection Act claim. The plaintiffs do
not have standing, because they cannot carry their
burden to establish injury in fact, which is the first and
foremost of standing’s three elements. What we have here,
your honors, is a case of threatened injury,
where plaintiffs allege a harm that they
expect to happen, not one that has
already happened. And in these threatened
injury cases, the Supreme Court has made
clear that the bar to standing is high. And that’s because courts
generally should not be deciding cases where
an actual injury never ends up occurring. In Clapper vs.
Amnesty International, the Supreme Court clarified
that a future harm must be certainly impending,
or must pose a substantial risk in order to confer standing. But an objectively
reasonable likelihood of harm is not sufficient. And if a plaintiff cannot
meet those standards, then if and when actual
injury does materialize, then a plaintiff can
sue at that point. But your honors,
plaintiffs do not meet Clapper’s
demanding standards. And that’s so for a
couple of reasons. First, as a general
matter, data breaches often do not culminate
in identity theft, which is the real harm at stake here. Our brief cites
empirical studies showing that only about one
in five data breaches ever– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
So you’re going to talk about substantial
risk, I take it? HENRY DICKMAN: Substantial
risk and certainly impending, those are the standards set
forth by Clapper, your honor. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Well,
can you help me out? If you’re talking
about one in five, you know there are some games
of chance and other chance-y operations where one in
five is not very good odds, it would seem to
me– especially when there are things that are at
stake, the kinds of things that might be at stake. And identity theft might
be one of those items that there really
is a lot at stake. And so, I don’t quite understand
the 8th Circuit’s position that 33% actually coming
to fruition is low risk. It just doesn’t fit for me. And I was wondering if
there is some connection between certainly impending,
whatever that means, and substantial risk– if that’s on a continuum,
or if those are entirely separate concepts, and you’re
going to leave one to the side. Can you help me with what the
Supreme Court has been talking about with those two terms? HENRY DICKMAN: Yes,
Chief Judge Howard. A couple points there– first of all, in footnote
5 of the Clapper opinion, the Supreme Court basically
treats certainly impending as being synonymous
with substantial risk. Those two phrases were carry
overs from previous Supreme Court decisions. And in that footnote, they
clarified that they basically mean the same thing. And what Clapper really
is directing courts to do in these
situations, your honor, is to look at the
chain of intervening causes that must take place
between where we stand now and the harm that is
ultimately alleged to occur. And the more of those
causes there are, and the less likely that
any one of those causes is to ultimately
materialize, well that suggests that the
future harm that is alleged is in fact not
certainly impending. And so our brief lays out the
five steps that, in this case, need to occur in order
for a harm to materialize. Plaintiffs have simply
invited this court to assume that a harm
is certainly impending. Their quote is that, “the
only event left to occur is the identity theft itself.” But this makes the same mistake
as the Clapper plaintiffs in ignoring that
series of intervening causes that necessarily exists
between where we stand now and the identity theft,
which may or may not occur. And I’d like to highlight
a couple of those steps in that causation chain. So one is the
imminence requirement. Plaintiffs must allege a
harm to occur imminently, not a harm that
will someday happen. And what’s important to note
about this case, your honor, is that at least nine
months have passed since the data breach occurred. And in that time, there has not
been a single identity theft committed against not only any
class member, in this case, but any Justice Connect
premium subscriber at all. JUDGE NATHAN: If there
were an instance now– maybe even since
the district court issued its decision of a single
instance of identity theft– would that be sufficient to
provide standing for the class? HENRY DICKMAN:
Well your honor, I think that certainly is a
closer case than this one. But ultimately, I
would still say no. The fact that one
person has been injured suggests that maybe some
steps in the attenuation chain are, in fact, not contingent,
that they’re real. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
So if one person had their identity stolen
before the complaint was filed– and it’s determined at the
pleading stage, I take it? Standing? HENRY DICKMAN: Yes, your honor. It is determined at
the pleading stage. JUDGE NATHAN: So we’re
talking about allegations of a substantial risk. No more than that, right? HENRY DICKMAN: Yes, your honor. I think what’s
important to note here is that when we look at this
chain of attenuated causes, as more people are
harmed, that seems to suggest that the
harm that is feared is in fact not that
highly attenuated. But in this case, we don’t
have anyone who is harmed, which suggests that these
steps that have yet to occur may be unlikely to
ever occur at all. JUDGE NATHAN: But to help
us figure out the boundaries of what is a sufficient
risk– and again, at the pleading stage– you’re saying one
would not be enough. How would we evaluate
what would be sufficient under your standard? Is it a percentage of the class? And at base, are you arguing
that actual harm is necessary in order to establish a
substantial risk of harm? HENRY DICKMAN: So to your
second point Judge Nathan, I think that in cases
like a data breach– in the context of
credit card fraud– it is important to
see actual harms that have befallen certain
people in the class before other similarly
situated individuals, who have not yet been
harmed, can claim standing on the basis of
threatened injury. And that is the case, because
as I mentioned at the beginning, data breaches in the
context of credit card fraud are unlikely, as
a general matter, to result in the harm
of identity theft. If this were a completely
different situation outside of the data breach context– whereas a general matter,
when event a happens, harm b ensues– then perhaps in that context– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: I don’t
understand your point. Your brief cites
one empirical study that says 19% result in the kind
of injury you’re talking about, identity theft. And I think the
other study said 22% I’ll grant that the
facts weren’t necessarily the same in the studies, but
how is that not substantial? HENRY DICKMAN: Well your honor,
I think the important point– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Are you just doing a proportionality analysis? I mean, what are you doing? HENRY DICKMAN: Well
your honor, Clapper makes clear that there are no
hard and fast rules when it comes to these standing cases. Clapper says that imminence
is an elastic concept. And so, this is
necessarily going to be a case by
case determination. And circuits on opposite
sides of the split have recognized this,
that part of what’s going to be
important is evidence of what has happened so far. Also what’s important is going
to be the type of information that was breached. So for example, when we
look at the information that was breached in this case, we
have names, email addresses addresses, phone numbers,
and credit card information. Well, the primary
financial harm that is presented by that breach
is credit card fraud. And this presents
a different set of harms than if information
like social security numbers or dates of birth
had been stolen. JUDGE OLDHAM: So
why does it matter that the first link in
your chain of five links is that the hackers have to
be motivated by a purpose to misuse the information? I’m not sure I understand why
that link is there, even if you agree with the other four. Because one, the fact that
the data was breached itself is an increase. We can argue about whether
it’s a substantial risk, but it’s certainly an
increase of threatened harm. And two, regardless of the
purpose of the original breach, the back end purpose of what
to be done with the information doesn’t seem to be motivated by
the purpose on the front end, if that makes sense. So you could imagine hackers
hacking the information and then using it for
a different purpose once they figured
out what they got. So I’m not sure I
understand why it matters what their
purpose was in originally taking the information. HENRY DICKMAN: Well
your honors, the hacker who has the information has to
have a financial motivation. So there might be a variety
of other motivations that a hacker might have, and
our brief lists some of those. It might be a foreign nation
with an espionage related intent. It might be a hacktivist
with an ideological intent. JUDGE OLDHAM: What if
it’s just a hacker that tries to get access to the
database, just to get it? Either to show that the
database can be breached– you read stories about this in
the newspaper every day. It would obviate the
first link in the chain. HENRY DICKMAN: Well your
honor, respectfully, I would argue the opposite, which
is that if a hacker doesn’t have any intent to actually
do anything with that data but simply wants to hack
for the sake of hacking, then no harm will ever
ultimately result. The hacker in question must
have some kind of motivation to commit financial harm. And if that hacker doesn’t
have that motivation, then the harm that plaintiffs
fear in this case– which is identity theft– will never ultimately ensue. JUDGE OLDHAM: What if
the hacker’s purpose in breaching the database
is to sell the information to somebody else? HENRY DICKMAN: Well
your honor, that certainly could be the case. But that is yet another
link in our chain of attenuating causes. In fact your honor– JUDGE NATHAN: How do we know
what the intent of the hacker is? And just to put it
in procedural terms, again, this is a
motion to dismiss. So we take the allegations and
the complaint on face value. You do a lot of
citation to, what I think are, extra
record materials, trying to establish
a minimal risk. Why is that appropriate
to consider at this stage? HENRY DICKMAN:
Well Judge Nathan, I think what’s important here
is figuring out whether or not the harm that is alleged
is certainly impending. And we have to look at
what usually happens in these kinds of cases. And the fact of the matter
is that in the context of these data breach cases,
identity theft sometimes occurs. And more often than
not, it does not occur. And this attenuation
chain gives great evidence for why that is the case. So another step in this chain– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Before you go there, please answer Judge
Nathan’s question. HENRY DICKMAN: I’m
sorry, Judge Nathan. What part of the question? JUDGE NATHAN: Just the
procedural question. So we take the allegations and
the complaint at face value. It seemed to be true. HENRY DICKMAN: Yes. JUDGE NATHAN: And
in making your point about the unlikelihood
of hacking, you cite to a lot of extra
record website information. I don’t know where it came
from or what good it is. Why is that
appropriate on a motion to dismiss, where what matters
for purposes of standing here at this stage are the
allegations and the complaint? HENRY DICKMAN: Yes. So your honor, the allegations
in the pleading stage are to be assumed as true in
the context of what has already happened. So when alleging, for example,
that there was a data breach and this is the information
that was contained in that data breach, that’s assumed as true. And we don’t dispute that. But we don’t necessarily
take as given the plaintiffs’ allegations of what’s going
to happen in the future. If that were the case, then– JUDGE NATHAN: Isn’t it a
factual question, this question of ultimately substantial risk? You’re citing factual material
to us to make the assessment. HENRY DICKMAN: It is a
factual question, your honor. But whether or not
the circumstances that have occurred in
the past will ultimately result in the harm that is
alleged to occur in the future depends on a variety of
other things happening in the real world that
have yet to happen and that can’t be alleged
as having already happened. One of those is the
hacker’s intent. Another is whether
or not the hacker will try to commit
identity theft imminently. Another is whether or not
the hacker will ultimately be successful in
committing identity theft. And in the context
of credit cards, that seems particularly
questionable. And that’s because if a
credit card company finds out about this breach,
then in many cases, they will simply
deactivate the credit card. And at that point, the
information that the hacker has is worthless. And he will be unable to
commit identity theft. And yet another step
in the chain, and this is perhaps most important,
is that even if everything plaintiffs fear occurs– which is that a hacker takes
this credit card information and misuses it for their
own financial gain– the plaintiff is still
unlikely to be injured. And that’s for two reasons. One, federal law requires that
when a cardholder’s credit card information is misused
but not the card itself– which would be this case– that a credit card company
cannot hold the cardholder liable for those
fraudulent charges. And second, all four major
credit card companies– MasterCard, Visa, American
Express, Discover– they have all contractually
agreed to not impose liability on cardholders whose information
has been fraudulently misused. And so your honors, when we
look at what Clapper commands– which is to examine this
chain of attenuated causes– and we think about the situation
that we have in front of us here, we see that the
harm is highly attenuated and that the harm
that plaintiffs fear– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
I’d like to just follow up on your last point,
though, before you continue. One of the other items
that you mentioned was that a person could
protect themselves by putting on a credit
freeze, locking their credit. But your brief doesn’t
talk about the cost that’s associated with that. Do you have any idea
what it means to a person when they actually go
through a credit freeze? And if you do, tell me why
that’s not injury itself. HENRY DICKMAN: My
time has expired. May I have leave to
answer the question? CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Of course. HENRY DICKMAN: First
of all, Judge Howard, plaintiffs have not alleged
any kind of actual expenses already incurred, such as
time spent on a credit freeze. And moreover, a credit freeze
is a more serious measure than what needs to be
taken in this case. Credit freezes are– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: But
you briefed the issue. You said that’s one of the
options that they have. HENRY DICKMAN: That’s the option
that a victim of a data breach generally has. And that would be more
applicable in the case of a breach which included
social security numbers or dates of birth. But in this case, all we
have is a breach of credit card information, which makes
the harm even more attenuated than the social
security number cases. And a plaintiff can simply
call their credit card company and deactivate the card. JUDGE NATHAN: So
is it your position that no breach of credit
card information would ever be sufficient to
establish standing? It sounds like you’re saying
given that credit card companies are going
to cover the costs, and you can put on
a credit freeze, it really doesn’t matter
if hundreds of people in this class had experienced
credit card fraud as a result. Right? That wouldn’t
establish standing. The causal chain would be
broken in your position. HENRY DICKMAN: So
Judge Nathan, I think there are some
actual harms that can result from credit card fraud. So for example, if someone were
out of the country and this happened, and they experienced
a hold on their credit card because of the
fraudulent charges and were unable
to get money, that seems like a situation where
a plaintiff could plausibly allege harm on the basis
of credit card fraud. If they do have to
spend many hours on the phone with their
credit card company trying to sort out
a fraudulent charge, that might be the
basis for harm. But we don’t have any of those
things alleged in this case. The record makes clear
that no one has incurred monetary damages to date. Your honors, it’s
for all these reasons that we ask that this court
dismiss the negligence claim for lack of standing. Thank you. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Thank you. JUDGE NATHAN: Thank you. KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
May it please the court. My name is Katherine Whisenhunt. And I, along with my
co-counsel Abby Thornhill, represent the appellee,
Miss Yasmine Surry. Miss Surry respectfully
requests that this court affirm the decision of the
district court in full. I will address why Surry has
constitutional standing to sue, and my co-counsel
will address why Justice Connect violated the
Video Privacy Protection Act. Miss Surry has constitutional
standing to sue, because she has plausibly
alleged an injury in fact sufficient to satisfy the
substantial risk standards set forth by the Supreme
Court in Clapper. This court should hold
that the increased risk of identity theft
following a data breach is a substantial risk, because
the purpose of accessing sensitive information through
a breach is actual misuse. And the risk that follows
is neither speculative nor attenuated. Beginning with the
purpose of hacking– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Do you
agree with your friends on the other side that
substantial risk means the same thing as certainly
impending in the Supreme Court’s view? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
No, your honor. I would not agree with that
statement given the Supreme Court’s decision
in Susan B Anthony List, in which the
court clarified that those were two separate
ways to establish injury in fact. In Clapper, the court stated
that a substantial risk which may prompt plaintiffs
to reasonably incur costs to avoid or
mitigate that harm was sufficient to be
an injury in fact. JUDGE OLDHAM: But wouldn’t you
need to have the actual costs? I mean, it might
be one thing to say that it’s a substantial risk
if you have to incur the costs. But you still would
have to allege that you had incurred the costs, right? To avoid the risk. KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
No, your honor. Threatened injury under
the standard is sufficient. So the plaintiffs here are
alleging an increased risk of identity theft
following the data breach as the injury in fact. And this, for two reasons,
qualifies a data breach, can create this injury in fact. So if we look first to
the purpose of hacking, a substantial risk
of harm exists when hackers access
information through a breach, because the purpose
of hacking is misuse. The Seventh Circuit
found this purpose instructive in Remijas
versus Neiman Marcus. In that case, the
plaintiffs had alleged standing based on the greater
susceptibility to identity theft following a hack of Neiman
Marcus, in which the hackers stole the plaintiff’s
credit card information. In that case, the
Seventh Circuit found that it was plausible to
infer that the plaintiffs had suffered a substantial risk
of harm, because presumably, the purpose of that hack was
to commit identity theft. The court asked, why
else would hackers break into a store’s
database and steal consumers’ private information? Presumably, the
purpose of that hack was to misuse the information
for identity theft. Similarly, this court can infer
in this case with the pride parent hack that the
purpose of the hack was to commit identity theft. The pride parent hacker
breached the system, and Surry and other
plaintiffs fell victim to this data breach, in which
the hackers obtained access to names, email addresses,
phone numbers, credit card information, home addresses. Like in Remijas with the
credit card information, it’s plausible for
this Court to infer that the purpose of that hack
was to commit identity theft. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Mr.
Dickman said that it probably wasn’t that
motivation, but rather some other form of fraud– credit card fraud, for example. So, do you have a
response to that? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Yes, your honor. Two responses to that–
first, credit card information was stolen in this hack. However, that was not the only
type of information stolen. So the plaintiffs can be at
risk of other types of identity theft, not merely the
credit card information. But I do want to address the
other alternative purposes point as well, because
although alternative purposes of the hack other
than identity theft might not be inconceivable,
this does not render implausible the plaintiff’s claim
that the increased risk of identity theft
following the data breach is a substantial risk. And we can look to the DC
circuit decision in the OPM data breach litigation. In that case, the
OPM had argued that another plausible or possible
motive behind that hack was espionage. And they argued that it was
not possible for the plaintiffs to construct a credible
theory that the hack was motivated by identity theft. However, the DC circuit
rejected that argument. The DC circuit held
that even though it was possible for a cyber attack
to be motivated by purposes of espionage, it was just
as plausible to infer that the hack was
motivated, or at least one of the hacker’s goals,
was identity theft. JUDGE OLDHAM: What are
we to make of the fact that the district court
doesn’t say any of this? The district court’s analysis
of the substantial risk of identity theft is one
sentence, effectively, that just says well,
Justice Connect acknowledged the breach, and
said take protective measures to prevent your identity
from being disclosed, and acted as if that effectively
concedes the injury in fact that your client would need
to invoke the jurisdiction of the federal courts. So what do we do with the
district court’s opinion? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Yes, your honor. I would like to make clear that
we’re not asking this court to hold that the plaintiffs have
standing because of the fact that Justice Connect
urged the customers to take remedial measures. Although, that has been a
consideration by several courts. We can look to the Ninth
Circuit decision in Zappos and the Sixth Circuit
decision in Galleria. However, we’re not
asking the court to decide solely
based on that fact. That is just further evidence
that the company does see this as a substantial risk. But rather, this court– JUDGE NATHAN: Well,
it’s that they see it as an increased risk. I don’t think there’s
reason to conflate increased risk with substantial risk. Right? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Yes, your honor. That’s correct. I don’t mean to
conflate the two. But they do recognize
that this is a risk, or they would not have
urged the customers to take those measures. However, this court
can look to the fact that the purpose of accessing
sensitive information through a breach
is actual misuse. And the risk that
results from that is neither speculative
nor attenuated. And I want to go a little more
into that lack of speculation and attenuation, unless
you’re asking a question. JUDGE OLDHAM: No. Please. KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Because I think that’s important to distinguish
from the circumstances in Clapper. So in Clapper, the
Supreme Court held that the risk
alleged there, which was that the communications
with foreign contacts, would be intercepted under
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And the court said that
the injury in that case was too speculative,
because it was based on a highly attenuated
chain of possibilities. A series of five
events had to occur before the plaintiffs would
suffer any harm in that case. However in contrast, in the
context of data breaches, there is no highly attenuated
chain of possibilities. The only event left to occur
is the actual harm itself. We can look to the DC
circuit’s opinion in Attias to see this distinction from
the circumstances in Clapper. So in Attias, the DC
circuit addressed this issue and said in data
breach cases, there’s no long sequence of uncertain
contingencies involving multiple independent
actors that has to occur before the plaintiffs
will suffer any harm. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Was
that on a motion to dismiss, or was that a summary judgment
after discovery about what actually had gone on? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Your honor, I’m not sure. I’d have to double check that. But either way, the court
did look to comparing Clapper to the circumstances
in a data breach case, finding that there is no long
sequence that has to occur. And I think another important
distinction that the DC circuit pointed out was that multiple
independent actors were involved in the Clapper case. So it involved
opinions and decisions to be made by the executive
branch intelligence officials and Article III judges serving
on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. So the decision
of the next person depended on the decision
of the person before them. It was a series of ifs. But in contrast, in
data breach cases, it’s the hacker themselves
who already accesses all of the information. JUDGE NATHAN: If we have
the same facts here, minus the credit card
information being hacked, does that impact your argument? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Your honor, I think it would be
harder for hackers to use just the rest
of the information to commit identity theft. I do still think
that there is a risk of identity theft without
those credit card information. But given the fact that we do
have names, email addresses, phone numbers, home
addresses, and the credit card information, that
information combined gives the hacker
everything that they need to commit the identity theft. JUDGE OLDHAM: Suppose
instead of the communication that Justice Connect sent
to your client and the rest of the class they did what
other companies sometimes do, which is to say dear
customer, your information has been compromised due
to an unfortunate breach. But as a consequence,
our company is going to pay for one year
of identity theft protection insurance. Would you agree with me that
would make it impossible, at least on the complaint
that your client has filed in this
case, to establish Article III injury in fact? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT: I’m sorry. If they had provided
those services, that would make it difficult to
establish Article III standing? No, I don’t think so, because
there’s still an increased risk of identity theft
following the breach, even if those services
were in place. So this is highly
sensitive information that we’re talking about here. And hackers can use tactics
to even gain more information based on that, such as phishing. So I think there
still is an increased risk of identity theft, even if
those services were in place. But I want to
touch a little more on that lack of speculation
and lack of attenuation in data breach cases. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Before
you do that, just to follow up on this point– what
do you make of the view held by the 8th circuit
and perhaps some others that only one third had
their identity stolen, and that’s not a
substantial risk. It doesn’t meet the
Clapper factors? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Your honor, I do think that’s a
substantial risk. But you know, as we mentioned– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: But why
is the 8th circuit wrong? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT: Your
honor, the 8th circuit case was involving only
credit card information. So one difference from the
case that we have here, it involves more
information, including names, email addresses,
phone numbers, and those home addresses in addition to
the credit card information. But the 8th circuit
took an approach that most of the
circuits have not taken. The way that the other circuits
have addressed this question was not looking to a
specific statistic, which could change or still be
considered substantial in the views of another court. However, the other
circuits have looked at this level of
speculation and attenuation, or lack thereof, in
comparing the circumstances to those in Clapper. JUDGE NATHAN:
Well, how would you say we should measure
substantial risk? What guidance should we
give the district courts in making that
determination, in your view? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Yes, your honor. I think there’s two
ways to measure that. First, if it’s
plausible to infer that the purpose of the hack
was to commit identity theft. In this case– JUDGE NATHAN: You agree that’s
a factual question you’ll have to prove, what the
intent of the hacker was? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Yes, your honor. But as we have discussed
previously here today, the standard is a
plausibility standard. It must be plausible
to infer that there’s a substantial risk. So if identity theft was
plausible purpose of the hack, then I think that is
satisfied here today and in cases where
it’s possible to infer that is the purpose of the hack. But also, the other thing
that this court can look to is the lack of speculation
and attenuation. We have a standard from the
Supreme Court’s case in Clapper that threatened
injury is sufficient, that a substantial
risk of harm– if the plaintiff can show that– confers or satisfies
the substantial risk– JUDGE NATHAN: But
how do they show it? Just in practicality,
what would it look like? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Yes, your honor. So we look to the fact that
there is nothing left to occur, that the hackers have possessed
all the information that they need. So one helpful distinction
might be whether the hackers have accessed the information. And several circuit courts
have made this distinction. So if we look to the DC
circuit in Attias and OPM as well as the Ninth
Circuit in Zappos and compare those to the 3rd and
4th Circuit’s decisions in Beck and Riley– in the first list of cases
that I mentioned where the courts did find an increased
risk of identity theft, there was evidence
that the hackers had accessed the information. In contrast, in the Fourth
Circuit case of Beck and the Third Circuit
case of Riley, it was unclear whether
the hackers had actually accessed that information. So the Fourth Circuit
and the Third Circuit, in those two cases, found that
the risk was too speculative, because there was no evidence. Like in Beck, there
was a stolen laptop. There was no evidence
that hacker had actually accessed the information. Similarly in Riley,
the fact revealed that the hacker potentially
accessed the information. So that would be a
standard to look to. In this case, we know that
the pride parent hacker has accessed that information. But that is something
the court could use it to draw that distinction
and something that the circuit courts have used thus far. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Are you saying that there is no circuit split
on this particular issue? KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
No, your honor. There is a circuit split
on whether the increased risk of identity theft
following a data breach is a substantial risk. I just mean to suggest that the
way the courts have addressed whether a risk is
substantial or not is looking to that level of
speculation or attenuation, comparing it to the
circumstances in Clapper. And a distinction
that has been drawn is whether that information
has been actually accessed, whether there’s evidence of
that access by the hackers. JUDGE 3: But one of
the things in Clapper is there were very specific
allegations of things that the plaintiffs in that
case had in fact incurred. Injuries that, in fact, the
plaintiffs had incurred. And the court says
these aren’t going to be sufficient for various reasons. But one of the reasons
they point out to is that you have to prove
each of these facts. And it just requires
too much speculation from the moment of the
filing of the complaint to the point of decision
to infer the connection. And what I’m struggling
with in this case is, I don’t see the
allegation of the injury in fact, whether it’s the
access of the information, or the use of the
information, or the purpose. The only allegation I
can see from your client here is the information, that
the database was breached. But we know nothing
else beyond that, which is why we end up
talking about statistics of identity theft. KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Yes, your honor. And I think that if we look
to several of the court’s decisions– like in
the DC circuit case, the OPM data breach
litigation– they said based on the fact that
the hackers had accessed that information, the
hackers possessed everything that they needed, all
of the information they needed to steal the
plaintiffs’ identities. Similarly, the Ninth
Circuit in Zappos articulated this
lack of speculation, saying that the hackers as
a result of that data breach had the means to commit
the identity theft. So I think we can
say, based on the fact that they have possession
of that information– they’ve obtained access,
just as the DC circuit stated in Attias, it’s plausible to
infer that the hackers had both the intent and the ability
to use that information to commit identity theft. If there’s no further questions? JUDGE NATHAN: Just a
parallel procedural question to what I asked your
colleague on the other side. Do you think you’re done
with respect to standing? In other words,
you’ve established it. Or you’ll prove it at trial. KATHERINE WHISENHUNT:
Your honor, I believe at this stage
in the litigation, we have plausibly alleged
a sufficient injury in fact to establish standing. I do recognize, as the
Supreme Court stated in Lujan, that each element
of standing must be shown with the manner and
the degree of evidence required at the successive stages
of the litigation. So I do recognize
that could have to be addressed at a further
stage of the litigation. But for these reasons,
we respectfully request that this court affirm
the decision of the district court. Thank you. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Thank you. Being new to the
12th circuit, I’m not sure if we go
right to rebuttal now or we go to the second issue. Does anybody know? JUDGE NATHAN: Second issue. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Second issue. We’ll hear from the appellant. Whenever you’re ready. MEGAN MERZ: Thank
you, your honor. May it please the court. My name is Megan Merz, and
I represent the appellants in this case, Justice Connect. We agree with appellees that
the Video Privacy Protection Act covers more than just
facially identifiable information. It covers information
that can be used to identify individuals. The question at issue today
is from whose perspective must it be identifiable? Appellees present the so-called
game program standard, which asks case by case whether
the information disclosed by the recipient
can be linked back using other data to the
particular individual. We instead ask this court to
use the ordinary person standard to determine whether
information can be linked back to an individual. There are three reasons why we
should use the ordinary person standard in defining
PII, or personally identifiable information. First, only the
ordinary person standard retains the statute’s textual
focus on the disclosing party. Second, only the
ordinary person standard is consistent with legislative
intent in enacting the VPPA. And third and finally, the
ordinary person standard accommodates new technology
without turning everything into PII. First, let’s talk about
the statute’s textual focus on the disclosing party. Enacted in 1988, this
statute is framed from the perspective of
regulating videotape service providers. Section 27.10 expressly
prohibits providers from knowingly disclosing PII
concerning any consumer under the threat of punitive damages. The text does not
mention the recipient, nor does it place any
punitive damages– JUDGE NATHAN: Well, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it say to any person? Just looking at the text,
videotape service provider who knowingly discloses
to any person. You want “any” to mean
something other than any, right? MEGAN MERZ: Well I think, your
honor, the focus of the text is still on the information
in the disclosing party. And the actual punitive damages
lie on the disclosing party. There are no implications
for the recipient who receives that data. But I think that the game
program standard shifts the focus of that statue
to the receiving party and what they’re
capable of doing. JUDGE NATHAN: You
do essentially want us to read that as to any
non sophisticated person, or to any ordinary person
rather than any person. MEGAN MERZ: Well I
think, your honor, if it were any information that
could possibly identify anyone to any person,
released to any person, that standard would
be impossibly broad. And I think that’s
actually broader than the standard
appellees are arguing for. Theirs is recipient
based, so it’s only the particular recipient who
is receiving the information, whether they can trace that
back to the individual. So I don’t think
either side really believes that any person
is the relevant actor here. I think there has to be a
limiting principle for what is identifiable and to
whom identifiable applies. We think the ordinary person
standard serves the purposes and fits the text
of the statute. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Why
wouldn’t the limiting principle be something like,
you’ve decided to enter the
marketplace and engage in the business of selling
this information to people who are going to use it
for what they used it for. And why can’t that be taken
in context with respect to focusing on the
disclosing person? MEGAN MERZ: Well I do
think, your honor, that when Congress
wrote the statute– by virtue of writing in
personally identifiable information, Congress envisioned
that it was carving out a narrow swath of information. This wasn’t a statute that was
applying to all information. So to answer your
question, I think Congress assumed that
video providers would be able to disclose some
category of information without incurring liability
under this statute, by virtue of setting aside
a particular category of information. And I think that’s where the
argument arises that the game program standard turns
essentially everything into PII and writes out– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
But if you know when you sell the information
that the recipient has the ability to identify the
person, why should you be let off the hook? Why does the statute not apply
to you in that circumstance? MEGAN MERZ: Well I
think, your honor, that in that circumstance,
it becomes a case by case adjudication. So in each instance, that piece
of information could be PII or could not be PII. It takes the focus away
from the information that’s actually
regulated by the statute and puts it on who
the recipient is. So maybe an example
might clarify. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: I’m
suggesting that it puts it on the discloser. It just puts it in context. I’ll take your point that
it takes the emphasis off the information. So what do you do with that? MEGAN MERZ: So
your honor, I think it also places an enormous
burden on the actual provider. So when Congress was
discussing this statute, they were balancing
two interests. One, we agree with appellees,
was the interest of privacy. But Congress also
had a stated interest in not over penalizing
videotape service providers. In fact, Congress specifically– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Do
you think that there was an intent to incentivize
selling of this information? MEGAN MERZ: I don’t think
there was necessarily an intent to incentivize it. But I don’t think– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: But
your position does that. MEGAN MERZ: Well, I
don’t think Congress envisioned that all information
would be considered PII. I don’t think Congress
thought that any single piece of information that a videotape
service provider sells could be considered
PII under this statute. I think by virtue of
writing a specific category for personally identifiable
information, that demonstrates
Congress didn’t just view this as all information. So I think whatever our opinions
are on what companies should or shouldn’t do, I think
the scope of this statute means Congress envisioned
companies being able to release some
data without being subject to punitive
damages under this statute. JUDGE 3: Isn’t the key textual
word, though, identifiable? Your friends on the other
side make quite a point about the fact that it’s not
personal identity information. It’s not just, you know,
things that actually disclose the identity of the customer. It’s identifiable. And it would make some sense
that the statute therefore imposes on your client
the responsibility to determine what’s
identifiable. And if the stuff is
identifiable to any person, then it would fall within the
scope of the textual provision, I would think. MEGAN MERZ: I think I
agree in part, your honor. We agree with appellees
that this statute goes beyond just identity
information, someone’s name essentially. It goes beyond that, and I
think identifiable implies that it extends to
information that can be used to identify someone. I think that brings it back to
that initial question I started with, which is whose perspective
must it be identifiable from? And I think when you make
it about the recipient, I think that has enormous
implications that don’t fit with what the
statute was intended. I think it’s also worth noting
what the statute was written in the context of, when
it was first written, which was when Judge Bork’s
video rentals were released to the public. Congress was talking about this
in the context of someone being publicly humiliated– their
name, their identity being tied to their particular
taste in videos. JUDGE NATHAN: So
is your position that it is limited to names? MEGAN MERZ: No, your honor. It’s not at all. We think it’s limited to things
that an ordinary person could readily link back
to an individual. So an example of that
accommodating technology might be a phone number. So we think in 1988, a
phone number probably would not have counted as PII. We think today, if you type
in a phone number into Google, usually you’re going to
get someone’s full name on the first page of Google. That today, under our
standard, counts as PII. JUDGE NATHAN: So
context does matter? MEGAN MERZ: Context
matters, your honor. We don’t think this is an
impossibly rigid standard. But we also don’t think
that we can swing entirely in the other direction
and open this up so that all
information is essentially counted as PII, which
more or less renders the text of the statute moot. Now, our colleagues
actually bring up multiple other statutes
that we think further clarify congressional
intent on this point. CAPA is one example. HIPAA is another. These are other statutes
that specifically write in things like
device identifiers, or they delegate
power to the FTC to expand over time
the definition of PII. And I think it’s notable
that this statute– JUDGE NATHAN: But you
think the definition does expand over time. You just said, a phone
number back then, no. Now, yes. So it does. It does change
over time depending on available technology. MEGAN MERZ: Yes, your honor. We think it does. But there’s no agency
that’s delegated the power to explicitly change what is
included within PII over time. And that’s what CAPA does,
which I think both of our briefs actually cite. So those statutes are written
with the language PII in them. But completely different
language is used to define PII, and I think that
demonstrates Congress knows how to write a statute that
defines PII in the way that appellees contest. But Congress didn’t do
that in this statute. JUDGE 3: But Congress
also knows how to write a statute
that allows companies to sell to advertisers
this sort of partially anonymized or fully
anonymized data, as they have done for example in
the telecommunications context. So doesn’t the inference
cut the other way, at least in that part? MEGAN MERZ: Well I
do think, your honor, it’s worth noting this
was enacted in 1988. So a lot of the technological
telecommunication space didn’t look the way
then that it looks now. But even so, I will say Congress
did revisit this in 2013. And a prominent
amicus brought up that things like
digital identifiers aren’t included in the
statute as it stands. So they were
presented and notified of kind of a modern
take that appellees provide on what the statute
could be adopted to mean. Congress ignored that and didn’t
change the statute at all. JUDGE NATHAN:
Because they thought it already encompassed it. MEGAN MERZ: We don’t
think so, your honor. We think they envisioned
more the scenario that aligned with what they
enacted it in reaction to, which was that of Judge Bork
being publicly humiliated. We also think that adopting
the game program standard effectively creates absurd
results that Congress would not want to get behind. Just based on the broad
swath of information that would be swept up
and, again, rendering the text of the
statute roughly moot. JUDGE NATHAN: We understand
what falls within your test. You’ve said names,
phone numbers. Yes? MEGAN MERZ: Yes, your honor. JUDGE NATHAN: Addresses? MEGAN MERZ: Most
likely, your honor. Yes. JUDGE NATHAN: Social
security numbers? MEGAN MERZ: We don’t
think so, your honor. We actually don’t think
social security numbers fall under the ordinary
person standard. They’re not something that, if
I read it out in this courtroom, someone could link
back to an individual. That’s not to dismiss the
importance of social security number disclosure, of course. But we think that there are
other regulatory schemes out there to protect
that type of data. Even privacy torts might
protect that type of data. Moreover, the
statute was written in the context of companies
like Blockbuster or Hulu, which are largely unlikely
to possess people’s social security numbers. So we think at the point
that Congress wasn’t thinking about that when they wrote it,
and at the point that there are other regulatory frameworks
to protect things like social security numbers. We don’t see a
problem with the fact that the ordinary person
standard doesn’t cover those. JUDGE NATHAN: You
said yes to addresses. MEGAN MERZ: Yes, your honor. Most likely. JUDGE NATHAN: This here–
factually, doesn’t it include location information? MEGAN MERZ: So yes, your honor. There was a district
court finding a fact that in this case, the
GPS location data was not precise enough to correspond
to someone’s address or to be specific enough that an
ordinary person could track it back to an individual. So that’s something we
agree with appellees on. So in this instance,
we all agree that this is not
information that was disclosed here
that can be traced back by an ordinary person. And we think that’s the most
appropriate and predictable standard. Even if you look at the
context of their standard, it doesn’t provide the enormous
protections that they claim. For example, a company could
disclose a piece of information to a startup that it wouldn’t
be allowed to disclose to Apple, even if that startup were
then to go out and acquire the same information
that Apple already has. So it doesn’t actually
protect consumer privacy in the enormous ways
that they contend. But it does create enormous
costs for the video providers. It creates an enormous
burden, and it potentially rewrites the text of
the statute by saying that all information
eventually is going to be encompassed as PII. And we agree with appellees
that the ultimate purpose of the statute is
largely privacy. But it specifically says in
the Senate committee reports that they intended to
protect consumer privacy to a reasonable, legitimate,
enforceable extent, not to the broadest
extent possible. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: What if the
limiting principle were simply that the seller
of the information has knowledge that the
purchaser of the information has a game program
and understands how that game program works? Would that be a good cut off? MEGAN MERZ: I don’t think
so, your honor, because I do think the game program
standard has a reasonably foreseeable aspect. But to some extent,
companies are always expected to foresee the
types of corporate partners they’re dealing with. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
I’m proposing just a little further down the
line, actual knowledge. MEGAN MERZ: I do think,
your honor, it still enters the same territory
of potentially making everything PII. Even if a company is selling
to a company like Apple, most of us can safely assume
Apple has a lot of information on all of us. And that company
would be expected to foresee almost certainly
that Apple can connect something as simple as a zip code
back to an individual. But that would then
make this statute one that covers the disclosure
of any information, again, as simple as the zip code
and the movie Legally Blonde. That could be enough,
as a disclosure, to count as PII
under the statute. JUDGE NATHAN: To Apple. It’s limited,
because it’s saying in light of the information
you have about the recipient, how much are you revealing? MEGAN MERZ: I see
my time is expiring. I wonder if I may answer? CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Yes. MEGAN MERZ: Yes to Apple. But we envision
a future in which more and more companies are
collecting more and more data. And you see– and courts
have acknowledged this– you’ll see more companies
looking like Apple, where they have enormous
amounts of data about us. So as we progress in the future,
the game program standard becomes increasingly and
increasingly unworkable. Even as the burden
of figuring out who knows what decreases
on the provider, the odds that all
of these companies have all this information
on us increase. So for all these
reasons, Justice Connect requests that this court reverse
the grant of summary judgment. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Counsel,
before you step back, I know that Yershov was
not a 12th circuit case. It was some circuit up in New
England if I’m not mistaken. JUDGE NATHAN: I hear nice
things about their Chief Judge. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
You were listening. Do you know if Justice
Souter was on that panel? MEGAN MERZ: I believe
he was, your honor. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Does that change your view of the case at all? MEGAN MERZ: I don’t
think so, your honor. We still think
that Yershov split from the rest of the
circuits in this instance. And we do think that
the rest of the circuits had it right when they applied
the ordinary person standard. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: I’m just
giving you a hard time here. MEGAN MERZ: Thank
you, your honors. ABBY THORNHILL: May
it please the court. My name is Abby Thornhill, and
I represent the appellee Yasmine Surry. Miss Surry asked this court
to affirm the decision of the district court and hold
that personally identifiable information, as defined by the
Video Privacy Protection Act– the VPPA– includes information from which
both an ordinary person, as well as a
sophisticated recipient may identify an individual. Adopting this standard would
be consistent with the First Circuit’s decision in Yershov. And under the First
Circuit’s test, the appellant Justice Connect is
liable for knowingly disclosing personally identifiable
information when it sent its consumer
preference data to the clothing company. The court should hold them this
way for three main reasons. First, the text of the VPPA
is broad and clearly indicates that Congress meant to
include all information that is capable of identifying
an individual. Second, the First
Circuit’s test is consistent with the
overall purpose of the VPPA to continue to protect personal
information in an increasingly intrusive and sophisticated
technological world. And third, a broad understanding
of personally identifiable information is consistent
with the government’s use of the phrase, as well
as its close equivalents throughout the government’s
statutes and regulations in the privacy sphere. But I want to start
with the text, because as the Supreme
Court has continuously held, any question of
statutory interpretation should begin with
the text, giving each word its contemporary,
ordinary, and common meaning. So first, Section 27.10b creates
the general prohibition against videotape service providers
disclosing personally identifiable information. But a3 provides the
actual definition of personally
identifiable information. And that’s the text– JUDGE NATHAN: You don’t put
any weight in your brief on the inclusion of the
to any person language. You think that has no
bearing on the question? ABBY THORNHILL: It
potentially adds bearing. However, the First Circuit’s
decision in Yershov focused instead
on the actual text of the definition of personally
identifiable information– specifically, first looking
at the suffix “able,” as Judge Oldham, you noted– addressing our friends
on the other side. And it is specific
there, and it does not specify a specific
category of information as the appellants suggest. Instead, it left the
term open, leaving it as all identifiable information,
all information that is capable of identifying
an individual. Additionally, the text starts
with personally identifiable information includes. And I think the First Circuit’s
discussion of includes is also particularly helpful. So includes first, on its own,
suggests that the definition provided is only a minimum. And we have further
legislative history that confirms that interpretation. But further, Congress also
chose the word includes instead of means, and this is
significant because within subsection a– in the definitions
for other terms, such as videotape
service provider– Congress did specifically use
the term means to actually define those definitions. Here, we have only that
x is an example of y, rather than x is y. But further– and I think this
is particularly important, because as our friends on
the other side suggest, potentially addresses
might not be included in personally
identifiable information– we have from the text of section
b2d that in fact, they are. So in section b2d
of the statute, there’s actually an exception
to the general prohibition against videotape service
providers disclosing this information. And it says that if you first
provide an opt out option, but then the only personally
identifiable information that’s actually disclosed includes
names and addresses, there is no liability. So in saying that solely
names and addresses are the type of information
that you can disclose, we know that names
and addresses first are included within personally
identifiable information, but also that they’re a minimum. And there’s more included
under the statute. So as our friends suggest,
if addresses potentially do not actually reveal
to an ordinary person who is matched with that
video content history, then we have a
plain inconsistency with the actual
text of the statue. JUDGE NATHAN: So what
do you understand to be the limiting
principle in the example? The example given is
certain companies now have the capability where the
zip code with a couple likes is enough to provide
the information. So zip codes would be sufficient
to trigger this, in your view? ABBY THORNHILL: So
asking particularly if any single piece
of information is personally identifiable
information isn’t exactly the right question. The question is about to
whom the party is disclosed. So if zip codes are given
to a company like the Chloe Company– where
their entire business model is their ability
to aggregate data and particularly
identify individuals– if a zip code would allow
them to do that, then yes. It is personally
identifiable information. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: But
what if you don’t know that they have that
ability, and you have no reason to know that? And maybe they don’t have
the ability, so they go out and obtain it after, once they
get this data from you, totally off the hook. ABBY THORNHILL:
So I have a couple of responses to your question. First, the statute
does limit this to knowing disclosure
is a personally identifiable information. So if a company
actually did not know, or perhaps the third party
recipient of the data was misleading about what they
would do with the information, there would be no liability. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
It seems to me that if that’s what
the statute means, then it is a free for all. There can’t be a
limiting principle. If there is one, I’d like
you to help me find it. And if your position
is that there should be no
limiting principle– that, in fact, what
Congress really intends by the plain
language of this statute is that none of this
information should be sold– then I’d like to hear it. ABBY THORNHILL: So I
do want to make clear that we don’t suggest that
this isn’t a broad statute. And it does cover a
lot of information and a lot of disclosures. And given the context in the
market for this information today, that’s true. But I think what we might think
of as a limiting principle here is that if any company,
including Justice Connect, is worried about
liability, they do have the option of simply asking
their consumers for consent. So under b2d, written
consent is a way to completely avoid any
liability under this statute. Further, if it’s true
that consumers actually prefer targeted advertising and
this is something they want, it should be no problem
actually to get that consent. But I have a feeling
that people also don’t understand at what
cost they’re getting those targeted advertisements. And that goes back
to Congress’s purpose in actually passing
this statute. So the VPPA was in
addition to a long line of legislation meant to continue
to protect personal information found in records. And in the legislative history,
we get from many senators different broad concerns about
the ability of technology to amass data about
individuals and actually specifically identify them. For example, Senator
Leahy who was one of the sponsors of
the bill specifically suggested that soon it would
be relatively easy for anyone to create a whole
profile of a person, including who they call
on the telephone, what they buy in a store– that sort of information. Congress further even
predicted that companies might start using
this information for commercial interests. So they might
actually do something like we see today
with the Chloe Company and target advertisements
based on the information and that profile that we
can build about individuals. And they increasingly
thought that this would be a problem with time. So Senator Simon, for
example, specifically said as we continue
to move ahead, we must protect time
honored values that are so central to this society. And that’s what the
VPPA was meant to do. And that’s why the
Yershov standard is– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Why should we care about all this
legislative history coming from individual senators? ABBY THORNHILL: Well
some of the statements are from specific
sponsors of the bill. But even if your
honor is not persuaded by the legislative history,
we’re merely bringing it in to, again, reinforce what
the text tells us alone. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
So we can ignore it. ABBY THORNHILL:
We could ignore it if you would like, your honor. Because the text itself is
broad, as we suggested earlier. It is all information that
is capable of identifying individuals. And as the First Circuit
noted in Yershov, had Congress intended
such a narrow and simple construction– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
So when you resort to your version of
legislative history, are you saying that you
are adding something? You are emphasizing
something in the statute, or you’re simply
saying that it’s completely consistent with the
plain meaning of the statute? I’m not quite sure
what you’re saying. ABBY THORNHILL: Yes, your honor. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Why you’re
quoting from the senators. ABBY THORNHILL: So we’re
quoting from the senators just to clarify and to,
as you suggest, just reinforce what is already
told to us by the text. I think the First Circuit’s
description of the text, saying– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: You’re not
getting, are you, to the point? Or are you? That this being
remedial legislation, it’s to be read broadly. And we can tell how
broadly by listening to what they said at the time. ABBY THORNHILL: I don’t think
we need the senators’ statements at the time, specifically
because the text of the statute is broad. And that’s what the First
Circuit suggested in Yershov. If they had intended
a narrow construction to include only
identity information, they would have written
the text in that way. Similarly, we can look to other
definitions in the statute, for example videotape
service provider. If they were only worried
about the context of something like a Blockbuster revealing
someone’s video rental history, they could have defined a
videotape service provider as a brick and
mortar video store. Instead, they described it
as any person or company that deals in similar
audio visual materials. Similarly with personally
identifiable information, they left the text broad. And I want to clarify
here that we’re not saying that the
meaning of the statute has at all changed over time. We’re merely asking
this court to continue to apply the statute to
new examples of technology. JUDGE OLDHAM: Is
the information here that was sold to
the Chloe Company the same as the
information in Yershov? ABBY THORNHILL: So in
Yershov specifically, just to make sure
I get this right, we did have the GPS
location as well as unique device identifiers which
were included in our bundle. So it is, yes, actually
very closely similar to the information in Yershov. JUDGE OLDHAM: And does it
matter about the capabilities of the person to whom
it’s sold, or in this case the Chloe Company– the company to whom it’s sold? ABBY THORNHILL: Yes. Yes, your honor. That is the operative question. So what are the capabilities
of the third party, and did the videotape service
provider– were they aware of those capabilities when
they gave the third party that information? JUDGE OLDHAM: And I noticed in
the district court’s resolution of summary judgment
in your favor, the district court
doesn’t say anything about the undisputed nature
of the Chloe Company’s capabilities. What do we do with that? ABBY THORNHILL: Yes, your honor. So unfortunately, the
district court opinion is not specific
about its assumption. However in adopting
the Yershov standard and then finding liability, we
can assume that the district court did accept that. But further, I think your
honor’s question points us to something that is important. And that is the context in which
this information is sold today. So it is sold to companies
like the Chloe Company, where it is their
explicit business model to take the information
that they’ve gathered from different videotape service
providers and other companies, aggregate it, and specifically
identify individuals. In two of the
circuit courts that have addressed this issue, as
well as one of the district courts, all the information
was sold to Adobe. There’s only a few actors in
this space who are actually taking the information,
and we know exactly what they’re going to do with it. JUDGE OLDHAM: Well,
they know that they can identify an
individual by a number, but they don’t know that
it’s me as opposed to you. Right? They just know it’s somebody. They know it’s client 123456789. Right? So why does that
fit within the text that you had urged
earlier that we adopt so closely about
personally identifiable? ABBY THORNHILL:
Respectfully, I’m not sure that you’re correct
that it is just an identifier. I think it is actually the
entire profile of the person, because they’re aggregating that
with information they already have, which can include
something like a name and address and actually
pinpoint a specific individual. JUDGE OLDHAM: Do we know
that the Chloe Company has the names associated with the
various otherwise anonymized data? ABBY THORNHILL:
Again unfortunately, the factual record doesn’t
specifically suggest that. However, if the district court
did find under the Yershov standard that Justice
Connect violated the statute, then we can assume
that the Chloe Company was able to actually
identify specific individuals. JUDGE OLDHAM: Got it. So your position is
absolutely that you’d need to be able to tie it to an
identifiable person, not just an identifiable number. ABBY THORNHILL: Yes, your honor. JUDGE OLDHAM: Very good. ABBY THORNHILL: But I know
that my time is starting to run short, so
I do want to get to what I sort of
addressed as my third point in my introduction. And that is that
this broad standard would be consistent with
other uses of the phrase “personally identifiable
information” throughout the
government’s statutes and regulation in this area. And I think this
is important first, because two different
videotapes service providers like Justice Connect– this shouldn’t be a surprise. This is the standard that is
used throughout the privacy sphere. But also in Smith
vs. City of Jackson, the Supreme Court
specifically held that when we have similar
statutes with similar purposes, we can infer that Congress meant
to give the terms in those– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Don’t those other statutes that you
cite in your brief have more precise, less awkward
language to use Judge Kayatta’s descriptor? Or am I wrong about that? ABBY THORNHILL: You’re
correct, your honor. In some circumstances, they
did fully delegate authority to a regulatory agency to
actually make the definition. But I that is important, in
the sense that they are then leaving to the regulatory
agency the actual fact finding and actual
decision about what qualifies as personally
identifiable information. With the VPPA, we simply
have a different– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: And Congress
could certainly do that here, right? ABBY THORNHILL: They
could, but they left– CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: So you’re
suggesting that a common law approach would be better? ABBY THORNHILL: No, your honor. I’m merely suggesting
that in this context, they left the fact
finding to the courts. And so they left the
courts with the ability to actually determine
what is personally identifiable information. And the text of the
statute does not specify specific information,
leaving it open for the courts to determine whether
in a specific context, information is personally
identifiable information. Further, we can look to those
statutes as well as regulations and statements from
different regulatory agencies to determine what personally
identifiable information means. So for example, the General
Services Administration stated that information can be
used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity,
either alone or in combination with other information
that is linked or linkable to a
specific individual. Again, reinforcing this point
that something on its face might not be
identity information, may not readily show to
someone who someone is and what they’ve done with
their video rental history. For example, in
the VPPA context– but is more broad and
can be used in aggregate. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Well the
Federal Trade Commission, for example, has authority like
this under one of its statutes, I take it. But it’s an agency
that is supposed to be protecting consumers. Congress chose not to
take that step here. Why shouldn’t we
draw the presumption the other direction, that
it meant a more limited application here? ABBY THORNHILL:
Again, I would go back to the text of the statute. Congress specifically left
it broad and open ended. It left it as all information. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Then how much help, really, is all this other stuff
about what the executive branch agencies have the power to
do under other statutes? How much help does it
give your argument? ABBY THORNHILL: It gives
some help in the sense that we can look to similar
statutes with similar purposes, often to infer intent. But if we only want to
rely on the text, we can. Those further statutes
do put Justice Connect and other actors
on notice of what might qualify as personally
identifiable information, but they certainly are not
the only things we need here to decide this case. If there are no
further questions, we ask this court to affirm the
decision of the district court. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Thank you. ABBY THORNHILL: Thank you. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
Is there any rebuttal? Will you both be presenting,
or just one of you? MEGAN MERZ: May it
please the court. Your honors, first I will
address the issue of standing. And then, I will move on to my
own issue on the Video Privacy Protection Act. So first on the
issue of standing, I want to first start by
noting that the standard here is not one of increased
risk or plausible risk. The standard here is
one of substantial risk. And the only definition that
we have of substantial risk, which is a very vague term, is
another far less vague term, certainly impending. Now our friends
on the other side cite to Susan B Anthony List. Susan B Anthony List does
state that a harm can be certainly impending
or a substantial risk, but it never
clarifies a difference between those standards. The only clarification
we have about the meaning of those standards comes from
Clapper footnote 5, which treated them as the same thing. So for the purposes of this
argument, the only more defining information we have
about what substantial risk means is that it
means a clearly, certainly impending
type of risk. So this standard
under Clapper does not fit with what the plaintiffs
have alleged today. This would make this circuit
the first of the eight that have considered
this issue to find standing where no known
misuse has already taken place in a data breach. JUDGE NATHAN: But
that’s an argument that there has to be harm. And that’s different than risk. MEGAN MERZ: Well
your honor, I don’t think it’s an argument that
every plaintiff– a plaintiff can come to the court
and get standing, even if harm has
not befallen them. But there has to be some
evidence, some shrinkage of the attenuation
chain to prove that there is actual
misuse looming on the horizon for that
particular plaintiff. We do think if in
this case there was more evidence
to debate, perhaps there would be a stronger case. But here, there is
simply no allegation of a single dollar
spent by plaintiffs in preventative measures. There is no allegation of
a single attempted misuse. And that would set
this court apart from all the other circuits
that have considered this issue, including all the
cases they cite, which all have found
instances of misuse before finding standing
for data breach plaintiffs. This attenuation chain is
also not just about intent. It’s also about the
ability of the hackers and the hinging on the fact
that these people haven’t just called and canceled their credit
cards in this nine months that have passed since. But to move on to
the VPPA issue. Both of these standards do
treat differently with time how data is treated under
this particular statute. I showed you how the
ordinary person standard fits with the
legislative history and that it evolves with time. But it doesn’t evolve
too much with time. We agree this is
a broad statute, but it’s not as broad
as appellees suggest. Can look to the
quote that I read about reasonable, legitimate,
enforceable extent of the privacy Congress
intended to protect here. This wasn’t intended to be
protect the most consumer privacy possible. This was aimed at a specific
swath of information. And Congress assumed there
was other information these companies would be able
to disclose that would not fall under this statute. But appellees have essentially
written that information off, ignored that part of the
statute’s text, which implies there’s other
types of information. So while the statute focuses
on the information itself, they focus on the recipient. So for these reasons,
Justice Connect requests that you reverse both
of the district court’s orders. Thank you. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Thank you. Thank you all. We will take the case
under advisement. MARSHAL: All rise. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Court
is still in session. You may be seated. Judge Oldham. JUDGE OLDHAM: Well
I have to say, I have obviously the least oral
argument experience of anyone on our panel. But I have seen a
lot of arguments in a lot of circumstances. A lot, I’ve been
involved in personally, whether as an advocate
or as a judge. And I cannot tell you how it
almost makes me emotional how extraordinary all
four of you are. I would take all four of you. It makes me proud
of all four of you. It makes me proud of
my adopted Alma mater. I was saying earlier
this afternoon how sad I am that I
had the good judgment to come here undergrad
and the terrible judgment not to come back for law school. You should be very, very
proud of your university, very proud of the moot court
competition, extraordinarily proud of all of the effort
that you put into this. It’s a breathtaking sight
to behold on the briefs. And in particular here
today, all four of you were just extraordinary in
your composure, your demeanor, your ability to answer
difficult questions, your ability to pivot off of
things that were challenging positions for your
client, or the problem packet that the moot court
board gave you and come back to positions of strength. And it gives me an
incredible amount of confidence in our
profession and the ability to have appellate
litigators going forward. You should all be
just incredibly proud. One of the things that I
loved about our conference– we were talking about it as
we were walking over here– is how short and
easy it was, given how just extraordinary
all four of you are. And the one thing I think
we could all agree on is that the shortcomings, the
things that we were pointing out is little half
point things here and there were little,
itty bitty, teeny, teeny, tiny things. It was like separating the
A plus plus from the A plus. It was really an amazing sight. So thank you, all four. JUDGE NATHAN: I join in full. It is an absolute pleasure. I’ll start with the briefs. I’m always blown away,
at these kinds of things, by the oral advocacy. I’m not always blown
away by the briefs. Both briefs were fantastic. There was never a moment of,
what are they talking about, or sort of getting
stopped by the language. The structure was beautiful. Your reliance on
law was beautiful. Your creativity of argument
was just superbly well done all around. And that’s lawyering. Standing on your
feet is lawyering, but 98% of the job of
lawyering is the written work. And you all did
fantastically with that. As for the oral
advocacy, as I said, I join Judge Oldham entirely. At base, oral argument
is a conversation. And it’s not always the case,
when we’re actually in court, that we feel like we’re
engaged in a conversation with the lawyers, that
they’re helping us. They’re really
hearing the questions, and responding to the questions,
and seeing what’s troubling us, and helping us find our way. And all four of you
did that fantastically. So I have nothing
but compliments. It really was
minor distinctions. And it’s hard with the scoring,
because maybe someone seemed a little bit nervous or
spoke a little bit fast. At the same time,
that person might have had incredible
control over the case law. And you know, in my book,
probably control over the case law is what really matters
at the end of the day. But you’re influenced by
some of these smaller things. It was really minor
points of distinction, as my colleague said. So my compliments to everyone. Also just to say, I think
the trick to oral argument is anticipating the
hardest questions that your side will face. And clearly, all of
you had done that. And I tried to sometimes
throw out things. I usually focus on procedure
and throw that out. Did that a little bit today,
but you all handled it well and actually gave me– I thought oh, I’ll really get
them on this process question. But I didn’t get a one of you. That was really well done. And my compliments to the
writers of the problem, as well. That’s not an easy task, and
it came together very nicely. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD:
So let me just add a couple of
things on the briefs. It’ll sound like
an echo chamber. So I’m preparing for
arguments next week. I have 18 cases coming up. I set them aside about
3/4 of the way through and picked up the briefs here. Now, I won’t tell you
which brief I read first. But what a treat it was! I mean, I set it down. I said why can’t they
all do it that way? I mean, it was just terrific. And then, I picked up the
other side and said, uh oh. I don’t know who
wins on the merits. So really, kudos to both
teams on the briefs. And then, I just want to make
another couple of comments on the advocacy today. It is absolutely true
that all four of you came across, at
least to me, like you were trying to help us. And that’s what I’m looking
for in every argument. I’m looking for that
conversational tone. We know where the
weak points are. We’re not just here
trying to win a case. We’re trying to figure out
where the law should be. And of course, it
should be where our side says it should be. But I can’t tell you what
a rare skill that is. And when I see it, I know it. And I saw it in four
advocates today. And again, I was
very, very impressed. Forgive me for being familiar,
but I forget the last name. Henry, we threw some
real curve balls at you. And you recovered very well. You’re never going to be
in trouble like that again. So you’re all set. Good job. And Katherine, I
made a specific note that I think it was Judge
Nathan or maybe both of us tried to throw you off. And what I was trying to do was
to get you out of your argument quickly and see how wooden
you were and mechanical you were in coming back. And I thought you came back
very early on in your argument, really smoothly. I was quite impressed. Megan, we tried to get
you off your main point. And we tried and
tried and tried. And you had to
stick to that point. And you did it beautifully. I was very impressed by that. Am I doing it right, Abigail? Have I got them? Oh, good. Wait until I
announce the results. Remember that
Oscar’s when they– [LAUGHTER] JUDGE OLDHAM: I’ll do this. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: You got it? JUDGE OLDHAM: I got it. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: Phew! OK. I noted a lot of things
about all of you. But the one thing I
just wanted to mention was that you had a
lot of points that you needed to make in your favor. And any one of them
could have stuck. But I really think the sum
total was what mattered. And you got them all out, and
you had impeccable timing. So good job, all. So thank you for letting
me off the hook here. JUDGE OLDHAM: Yes, I got you. I got you. JUDGE NATHAN: You
know, he’s saying he’s just going to correct
you if you get it wrong. JUDGE OLDHAM: No,
you have to do it. I’m not getting you out of that. You still have to. CHIEF JUDGE HOWARD: All right. Let me try this. So we did our
individual scoring, but the board actually has
this rubric that it follows. It includes the
brief, and the oral, and you know, all
this stuff combined. And what we were told is that
it was razor, razor thin, and that the appellants
team prevailed. And best oralist goes
to Abigail Thornhill. [APPLAUSE] That was for you, and
it was well deserved.

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