In Jason Senne v. Village of Palatine, No. 10-3243 (7th Cir. July 11, 2011), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (the “Court”) affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case and concluded that the Village of Palatine is not liable for the “disclosure” under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (the “DPPA”), 18 U.S.C. § 2721,et seq., that results from the printing of a person’s name, address, driver’s license number, date of birth, sex, height and weight on a parking ticket if such disclosure is otherwise allowable under the DPPA, notwithstanding whether the nature of the personal information disclosed is necessary for the purpose disclosed.
Jason Senne improperly parked his car in Palatine, Illinois. Upon returning to his car, he found a parking ticket for $20 on his car, which had been issued approximately 5 hours earlier. The parking ticket, which doubled as a return envelope to pay the fine, included what Senne believed to be unnecessary personal and private information. He therefore filed a class action suit against the Village of Palatine for violating his right of privacy in disclosing personal information contained in his motor vehicle record. In defending his position, Senne cited the legislative history and intent of the DPPA, which was enacted in part as a result of several crimes in which offenders accessed certain personal and private information through motor vehicle records to identify, select and stalk victims. Senne argued that restricting the disclosure of personal information contained in motor vehicle records “prevent[s] the commission of a crime.” Therefore, the Village is “facilitating the potential for crime by making the personal information of the vehicle’s registered owner available to anyone who would desire the information” and, further, the personal information is “printed on a ticket for no apparent reason” and “does nothing to aid service.”
The Village argued that the use of Senne’s personal information did not constitute a “disclosure” under the DPPA, but even if it did, it was a permissible use. According to the Village “disclosure” under the DPPA requires that something is actually “disclose[d] to someone.” In other words, if the Village does not hand the information to a third party, or if an individual does not otherwise observe the information, then there is no disclosure.
The Court reasoned that the Village’s definition of “disclosure” is overly narrow and “puts shackles on the ordinary meaning of the word disclose.” The Court instead relied upon language in the DPPA referencing a disclosure of personal information as that which has been “disclose[d] or otherwise [made] available,” in addition to several standard dictionary definitions . The Court concluded that the Village’s printing of the personal information on the parking ticket constituted a disclosure under the DPPA.
While the majority agreed with Senne that the Village’s actions constituted a disclosure, they concluded that the Village’s use of the information constituted a permissible use under the DPPA, because the disclosure was in connection with a court or agency proceeding, including the “service of process.” The Village’s issuance of a parking ticket and leaving it on the applicable car constituted “service of process.” The Court reasoned that even if the “Village’s practice is unnecessary, foolish, and a ‘poor security practice,’” the DPPA “does not impose best practices on municipalities.” Further, the “statute does not ask whether the service of process reveals no more information than necessary to effect service,” but rather only whether such disclosure is permissible.” Based on this statutory language, the Court declined to impose a more restrictive analysis than that specified in the DPPA.
Senne also argued that by including his personal information on the ticket, which doubled as a return envelope, the Village committed a second improper disclosure of his personal information since “the provision says that an ‘authorized recipient of personal information … may resell or redisclose the information only for a use permitted under subsection (b) [of the DPPA]…’”. The Court concluded that this type of redisclosure was also permissible since it is in connection with the original permissible disclosure and acceptable under the same provisions in the DPPA that allowed the Village to disclose the information in the first instance. Importantly, the court held that even if the disclosure of personal information is not permissible, the redisclosure and “specter of liability” is with “the person who rediscloses personal information, not the original person or entity who effected the disclosure.” Therefore, since the second disclosure would be effectuated by Senne’s act of mailing the citation, Senne would be responsible for the redisclosure of his personal information, which would result in a lack of controversy since Senne could not bring suit against himself.
The dissent, while agreeing with the majority that the ticket constituted a disclosure under the DPPA, argued that the Village “violated the DPPA through excessive disclosure of personal information…” in that the disclosure of Senne’s personal information lacks relevance and is unnecessary to notify the car owner of the issuance of a parking ticket. The dissent also felt that the “majority opinion’s interpretation frustrates, significantly, the intent of Congress.” The dissent believed that 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… 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.” The dissent believed that “Congress did not contemplate that the permissible uses would justify any disclosure, but only those that are reasonable in light of the permitted use” and that disclosure of personal information in connection with the issuance of a parking ticket would not be reasonable.