Geek Trivia

The Video Privacy Protection Act Came About After The Leak Of The Rental History Belonging To A?

Archbishop
Vice President
Supreme Court Nominee
Governor
Skimmers Are Used To Capture What Kind Of Data?

Answer: Supreme Court Nominee

In 1987, Robert H. Bork, then judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was nominated for a position on the Supreme Court by President Reagan. The majority of press surrounding the nomination was focused on Bork’s long history in law (he not only held the prestigious Court of Appeals position, but had previously been the Acting U.S. Attorney General and Solicitor General of the United States). But while the newspaper articles that debated his (often divisive) political opinions are more or less lost to the sands of time, one newspaper article in particular triggered a wave of changes that persisted long after Bork lost the nomination: a small article in the Washington City Paper about his video rental history.

A writer for the City Paper, Michael Dolan, strolled into the video rental place (Potomac Video) that he frequented along with Robert Bork, explained to the assistant manager (who knew he was a reporter) that he was interested in writing a special interest piece about Bork based on the kind of movies he liked, and received a photocopied stack of Bork’s lengthy video rental history—no questions asked. The piece itself wasn’t particularly inflammatory and the actual content of Bork’s video rental history was (stupendous length aside) downright boring. There was not a single racy or morally outrageous video to besmirch the record of the very conservative nominee.

But the article made waves. Not only did pundits seize on the huge number of videos Bork rented to suggest that anybody who has that much time to sit around and watch movies doesn’t have enough time to attend to the demands of the Supreme Court, but the very idea that a video rental store would just hand over the video rental history of a prominent political figure made a lot of other prominent political figures very nervous. While Bork may not have rented any questionable videos dozens of times, surely somebody with a reputation to uphold had and we’re pretty confident there were a few sweaty foreheads in Congress when the story broke. As a result of the whole debacle surrounding Bork’s video rental history, Congress quickly passed the Video Privacy Protection Act in 1988. The act made it unlawful for any video provider to disclose the rental or sale records of video tapes or any other similar media (like video games) and included wording to cover future formats like DVDs.

Lest you think that this bit of history, decades in the past and relayed to you at a time when video rental stores are but a memory in many parts of the U.S., is irrelevant today, think again: the Video Privacy Protection Act still holds sway over video streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, and the like. In fact, in 2013 President Obama signed H.R. 6671 into law which specifically amended the Video Privacy Protection Act so that providers could release information about customer “rental” history to social media sites as long as they had permission from the customer—this change allows services like Netflix to offer integration with Facebook and other social media platforms.

Image courtesy of Michael Dolan/The City Paper.