SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
I hope it's not ungentlemanly to note that Junie Hoang is 40 years old. Her birth date appears in the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, and the fact that she's played a headless woman in "Domain of the Damned" and Miss Fix-It in "Voodoo Dolly." She doesn't sound like a woman to cross.
Junie Hoang is going to court against IMDb, which is owned by Amazon, because they revealed her age in her entry. She believes that could cost her work. Male actors over 40 - Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Morgan Freeman, Christopher Plummer - play cowboys, spies and heroes, whereas filmmakers seem to pass all roles for women over 40 between Dame Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep and Dame Judi Dench. Betty White gets every role over 80.
But Junie Hoang's case could have implications beyond allegations of age prejudice. Junie Hoang is a stage name. The actress known as Junie Hoang was born Huong Hoang, and there are about 600 people by that name in the United States. Now, how would IMDb know that Junie Hoang, the actress who's played in a film called "Saturday Night Cleaver," is Huuong Hoang, who was born July 16, 1971, in Saigon? Did Amazon IMDb, as the lawsuit suggests, mine their database of credit card information, bank history and perhaps public records not to expose a criminal conspiracy or a terrorist plot, but merely to come up with the birth date of an actress?
An Amazon spokesman says it's their policy to refuse comment on all pending lawsuits. Still, what's so vital about an actor's birth date? Actors and actresses, after all, are professional deluders. They dye their hair, and wear false teeth for roles. Russell Crowe, from New Zealand, plays American cowpokes; and Meryl Streep, from New Jersey, plays the prime minister of Britain, a Danish writer, a Polish Holocaust survivor and more - and takes home gold statues for it.
Jonathan Turley, at the George Washington Law School, told us Junie Hoang's case raises a legitimate complaint that is long overdue. The assumption of industry is that any information accessed by a third party has no expectation of privacy. That is not the assumption, he says, most citizens have. So when we order a book or buy socks on the Internet, do we know we may undo a latch on a lid that lets companies drill down for personal information? Not just age but medications we take, magazines we may read, or that we once ordered "Lolita" or "Das Capital." Professor Turley says Junie Hoang's case could help establish curbs and codes to protect privacy. Junie Hoang played a headless woman, but she might wind up being a real figure in legal history.
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SIMON: That's Rockwell, and you're listening to NPR News.
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