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Florida Attorney General Rules Photo Tickets Are Public Records
Red light camera tickets in Florida turns sensitive, private information into a public record.

Attorney General Bill McCollum
Florida's Office of the Attorney General last week issued an informal ruling that classified red light camera and speed camera citations as public records. That means anyone can order copies of the photographs taken by the private companies that operate the automated ticketing machines that were legalized this week with the signature of Governor Charlie Crist (R).

The Palm Beach Post had wanted to print names of the interesting people who received photo tickets, so the newspaper issued a request for a list of the 8600 individuals who were mailed tickets by the British company that runs the cameras for the town of Juno Beach. The town attorney asked Attorney General Bill McCollum for a ruling on whether fulfilling the request would violate state motor vehicle record privacy laws. The letter opened up the possibility of even broader information disclosure than the paper sought.

"Personal information... may be disclosed by the state department of motor vehicles to a law enforcement agency for purposes of facilitating the agency's performance of its functions," Senior Assistant Attorney General Gerry Hammond wrote. "Any such motor vehicle records would be confidential in the hands of the law enforcement agency. However, to the extent information is taken from these records and used in preparing other records of the law enforcement agency or its agent, the confidentiality requirements do not reach records created by subsequent users."

Photo ticketing companies qualify as "subsequent users" with authority to publicize information including an individual's "photograph, social security number, driver identification number, name, address (but not the 5-digit zip code), telephone number, and medical or disability information," according to the informal opinion. The same information, while in the hands of government officials, is protected by state and federal law.

"It would appear that section 119.0712(2), Florida Statutes, would not act as a bar against the Town of Juno Beach producing copies of notices of infraction for speed zone violations issued pursuant to the town's street safety program and that the city is under an obligation to allow inspection and copying of these records," Hammond concluded.

In Baytown, Texas, officials released the bank account and routing numbers of every red light camera ticket recipient. The city claimed that providing the personal information was an accident.

Source: Advisory Legal Opinion (Office of the Attorney General, State of Florida, 5/12/2010)

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