Jun 172004

Today I read of a ruling in a privacy case against Northwest Airlines. Apparently, a Judge dismissed the class action suit on the grounds that the people filing the suit had not fully read the airline’s privacy policy, and therefore had no expectation of privacy. (CNet News)

You know me, when stupidity rears its ugly head in our government, I can’t control myself. And, being that, despite the beliefs of King George and Bishop Ashcroft, the judicial process is supposed to be open and public, here I make my letter to Judge Magnuson public:

The Honorable Paul A. Magnuson
Sr. Judge, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota
United States District Court
730 Federal Building
316 N. Robert Street
St. Paul, MN 55101

Dear Judge Magnuson:

I have never before written a federal judge about a ruling, but I must comment on your recent ruling in the Privacy Lawsuit against Northwest Airlines.

It appears the crux of your ruling was based on the fact that the people didn’t “read” the entire privacy policy, and so had no expectation of privacy.

Let’s carry that out a little if we may. Airlines love to throw the “terms of carriage” at you when its to their advantage, which it almost always is, and in fact, with their on-line boarding pass and e-ticket systems, one has to be pro-active in finding those terms and conditions. In the past, ignorance of the terms and conditions of any agreement was not an excuse for violating or ignoring those terms and conditions. Your ruling seems to vacate that long-established principle. So, while I’m sure the Airline is rejoicing in your ruling, I’m guessing they haven’t thought about the other side of the coin. Clearly, if I haven’t bothered to read all the fine print that I would have to pro-actively try to find about the terms of carriage, then those are not enforceable.

To carry your ruling to its logical conclusion, if I don’t bother to “read” the End User License Agreement for software, then I wouldn’t have to be held to its terms. If I don’t read copyright notices, then I guess copyrights no longer have any standing. The IRS has never even sent me a copy of the entire tax code each and every year, so, by your logic, why would I be obligated to follow that? In fact, following your reasoning to its logical conclusion, if I’ve never read the entire set of laws of the Federal and State government, then why would I be obliged to adhere to those laws? I think I must be exempt from most of them.

In short Judge Magnuson, this was an absurd finding on your part, and follows no reasonable logic that I can discern. On the other hand, I will take pleasure, if I’m ever audited by the IRS, in invoking your ruling to establish that since I didn’t read the entire tax code, then I’m free of any obligations it might impose, and I will take pleasure in carrying your ruling with me when I travel by air (which is frequent) so that I explain to airline employees how the terms of carriage do not apply to me, since I didn’t bother to “read” them.

Thank you for opening this legal door. If this was not your intent, can you please help me understand your legal reasoning?

Sincerely yours

I was always under the impression that there was a reasonable expectation that ignorance of the law, or the terms and conditions of an agreement was no excuse for ignoring or violating said law or agreement. Have I been stupid all this time? How lame is this ruling?

So be it. The upshot is, don’t read the fine print, and your not obligated to it. Don’t worry, be happy!

However, to be fair, the Judge has bravely criticized Bishop Ashcroft and the U.S. Congress for trying to usurp the discretion of judges. Since it appears he pissed them off, I gotta like the guy.

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