Netflix Gets Borked

In addition to being a video rental giant, Netflix is now a class action defendant. The suit, filed in a California federal court, claims that Netflix holds onto subscriber information for too long. Now that admittedly sounds like sloppy record keeping, but it begs the question, how does that justify a lawsuit? That’s where the Bork reference comes in. In 1987, Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork for the United States Supreme Court. In addition to bearing an eerie resemblance to the King Tut character from the old Batman TV series:


Bork was an “originalist” – meaning that in his view, judges must interpret the Constitution strictly according to the framers’ understanding at the time it was drafted. Not everyone was crazy about his nomination. And some of his opponents went so far as to check with his local Blockbuster to see if he’d rented any embarrassing videos. He hadn’t. But Congress was so creeped out by the notion that anyone would check out another person’s video rentals (which begs the question, what were our congressmen renting?) they passed the Video Privacy Protection Act. That statute limits the disclosure of video rental information. And it requires video providers to discard personally identifiable information as soon as practicable after it is no longer necessary. And that’s what the lawsuit is all about. The named plaintiff in the class action apparently canceled his Netflix account over one year ago. The suit also accuses Netflix of breaching its “fiduciary duty” to its subscribers, but that seems like a stretch. In any event, the suit serves as a reminder to any business that collects personally identifiable information. Collecting, holding and potentially disclosing that kind of information carries a lot of risk. And if you don’t need it, you’re better off discarding it as soon as you can.