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Federal appeals court reverses its own ruling in motorist privacy case

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Monday overturned [opinion, PDF] the decisions of both a panel of its own judges and a lower court in the case of Senne v. Palatine [materials], a privacy lawsuit filed by a motorist against the village of Palatine, Illinois. Jason M. Senne filed suit against the village after receiving a parking ticket in August 2010, where the citation left on his windshield included his name, address, driver's license number, date of birth, sex, height and weight, the car's VIN number and other vehicle information details. Senne maintained that publicly displaying such information constituted a violation of the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) [materials], which prohibits release of information found in motor vehicle records. The district court had granted Palatine's motion to dismiss on the grounds that issuing a parking citation was not a disclosure under the statute and that, even if it were, it fell within a specifically permitted purpose identified in the statute. A three-judge panel led by Judge Richard Posner affirmed the decision, but Senne appealed to the full court and was granted a hearing en banc. The full court reversed the earlier decisions, concluding "that the parking ticket at issue here did constitute a disclosure regulated by the DPPA, and … the facts as alleged are sufficient to state a claim that the disclosure on his parking ticket exceeded that permitted by the statute." The original citation was for a $20 parking violation.

Privacy can be a nebulous legal concept and is often litigated. Last week the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] in federal court against the new Stop Insider Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act) [S 2038, PDF] requirement that federal employees disclose all financial transactions over $1,000. The ACLU maintains the provision is an unconstitutional invasion of these employees' privacy because the STOCK Act requires that these disclosures be readily available on the Internet. That same week the ACLU announced [JURIST report] that its affiliates in 38 states had sent letters to local and state police departments asking them to clarify how they use information obtained from automatic license plate readers (ALPRs), cameras mounted near roads and highways that photograph and record license plate numbers. There the ACLU expressed concern that police departments are gathering and storing information about the travel patterns of all vehicles, regardless of whether they are vehicles of interest, alleging that "responsible deletion of data is the exception, not the norm."

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