Somebody’s Watching You, Judge

When I read the news today about Judge Alex Kozinski’s posting of inappropriate material on the Internet, it jogged my memory about Judge K’s long history of advocacy on Internet use and privacy. 

Back in 2001, Kozinski led an effort by 9th Circuit judges to circumvent, disable, and overturn a computer-monitoring system put in place by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Kozinski wrote several long memoranda to his colleagues on the bench and the Administrative Office, excoriating the monitoring system and the bureaucratic leaders who imposed it. In one New York Times article about Kozinski, the reporter (perhaps with Kozinski’s urging) compared the monitoring to what he experienced as a child behind the Iron Curtain. And in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal , Kozinski himself wrote that “according to a policy that is up for a vote by the U.S. Judicial Conference, we may soon start treating the 30,000 employees of the judiciary pretty much the way we treat prison inmates.” Clearly incensed, he later called the monitoring scheme a “pure, bureaucratic power grab.”

Don’t get me wrong—I really like Judge Kozinski and his quirks, and have admired him since I first interviewed him in 1996. But I think he erred in this case.  And in light of today’s news, he probably leaned too far forward in his fight against the Internet-monitoring scheme in 2001.