8/1/2011Federal Court OKs Personal Information on Parking Tickets
US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit finds no problem with displaying personal information on parking tickets.
The Village of Palatine, Illinois prints the personal information of vehicle owners -- including their address, driver's license number, date-of-birth and weight -- on parking tickets left under the windshield wipers of their automobiles. In a ruling handed down last month, the Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals found no problem with this procedure.
Motorist Jason Senne had filed suit against what he saw as an outrageous violation of privacy after he received a $20 parking ticket in August 2010. The information printed on the citation, and left open to anyone walking past his vehicle, could be used by an identity thief. Senne argued this was a violation of the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act which prohibits disclosure or otherwise making available the information found in motor vehicle records.
"It's printed by a computer," Senne's attorney, Mark Murphy, argued before the court. "They just have software and a printer and this is how they issue their tickets. The secretary of state when a person applies for a driver's license has an obligation and a duty under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act to keep that personal information that you tender over to the secretary of state private. They're not supposed to disclose it. They're not supposed to give it away.... It's just being printed on a ticket for no apparent reason."
Palatine argued that its use of the information falls within a law enforcement exemption and that the printing of the information does not constitute disclosure. The three-judge panel disagreed strongly with the latter claim.
"In the village's view, a plaintiff must show that personal information was actually handed over to a specific someone, or at least that a specific someone observed the information," Judge Joel M. Flaum wrote for the majority. "The village's argument, however, puts shackles on the ordinary meaning of the word disclose... Imagine if a DMV employee placed a stack of driver records on a city sidewalk. Under the village's reading, only the person whose information was at the top of the stack would have his information disclosed."
The court majority agreed with Palatine that the village had a valid exemption for disclosure in the "service of process." Senne countered that the over-disclosure of information such as the driver's height and weight had absolutely no law enforcement or service purpose, but the majority said Congress did not address that possibility.
"Senne argues variously that the village's practice is unnecessary, foolish, and a 'poor security practice,'" Flaum wrote. "That may be, but Congress is free to use language broad enough to permit all those things. The statute does not ask whether the service of process reveals no more information than necessary to effect service, and so neither do we."
Judge Kenneth F. Ripple dissented on this point, citing statements from the Congressional Record explaining the intent of the privacy law.
"The exceptions must be interpreted in a manner that is compatible with Congress's careful attempt to balance individual privacy/security needs and the legitimate operational and administrative needs of the government," Ripple wrote. "We should not ascribe to Congress the intent to sanction the publication of any and all personal information through the invocation of an exception... We should interpret the statute as permitting the release, through the exceptions, of only the personal information reasonably necessary to effectuate the governmental purpose set forth in the exception."
Ripple cited the example of actress Rebecca Schaeffer who was murdered by a man who had copied down her license plate number and then looked up her home address in Department of Motor Vehicle records. In this case, Ripple noted a stalker would not even need to go to the DMV since the address is available on the ticket itself.
A copy of the decision is available in a PDF file at the source link below.