Former IRS attorney, Robert Steinbuch, filed suit last spring against his former girlfriend, Jessica Cutler. CNN is reporting that the lawsuit is about to head for trial. It seems that while the two were dating, Cutler maintained a blog (Web log) detailing her sexual encounters with Steinbuch as well as her relationships with other boyfriends and sex partners. The Cutler blog was picked up by a Washington, D.C. gossip web site and suddenly Steinbuch and Cutler were national celebrities. Cutler was fired from her job as a Senate aide, and Steinbuch left Washington to pursue a teaching career.
In addition to the trial promising to demonstrate that IRS employees do indeed have a life beyond the calculator, there is an interesting legal angle that will no doubt be addressed: Do people who use the Internet have a responsibility to protect the privacy of people with whom they interact offline? Steinbuch, now a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law School where he teaches, among other topics, a course on Ethics, thinks the answer to that question is, “Yes.”
Marc Rotenberg, a privacy expert, law professor, and director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center compared the situation to someone who secretly videotapes a partner and then sells the tapes without the partner’s consent. “Anybody who wants to reveal their own private life has a right to do that,” he said. “It’s a different question when you reveal someone else’s private life.”
Steinbuch claims he was publicly humiliated by Cutler’s narrative and is seeking damages in excess of $20 million and a restoration of his good name. The trial decision could have a far-reaching impact to people who keep public diaries on their own web sites as well as those who post personal information about others on public sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
----by Gail Perry, CPA and the author of more than 20 books, including QuickBooks 2007 On Demand, Quicken All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Surviving Financial Downsizing: A Practical Guide to Living Well on Less Income