Imagine getting a $20 parking ticket and then filing suit against the issuing municipality for exposing too much personal information on that ticket. That’s exactly what Jason Senne did after receiving a $20 parking ticket in 2010 forillegally parking his car overnight in the Chicago ‘burb of Palatine, Ill. His name, address, driver's license number, date of birth, height and weight all appeared on the ticket, which was placed on his windshield in full public view. Senne's complaint alleged that disclosure of his identity was in violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA). DPPA requires that all states protect a driver's name, address, phone number, Social Security number, driver identification number, photograph, height, weight, gender, age, and specific medical or disability information. Congress passed the privacy legislation in response to the death of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. She was killed by a stalker who had gotten her unlisted home address through the California DMV. In Senne’s case, initially a federal judge found that an exception for law enforcement protected the village's actions, and a 3-judge panel of the 7th Circuit affirmed that last year. Senne pushed and the full federal appeals court agreed to rehear the case. Last week, the full federal appeals court decided Mondaythat ‘the parking ticket at issue here did constitute a disclosure regulated by the DPPA.’
In a 7-4 ruling, the appeals court said that it didn’t matter if someone walking by happened to notice the personal info – just the fact that it was exposed in such a public manner was enough. The earlier district court decision, in favor of Palatine Village, was based on the notion that a ‘disclosure’ was when an entity turned over information to someone else without consent and was not considered disclosure. In this case, there was no direct handoff, just the ticket flapping on the windshield/wiper blade in plain sight. In the overturned ruling, the divided court felt that there was real risk, safety and security concerns at stake. A stalker looking for a target could just hang out where overnight parking is banned and collect a bunch of potential victim’s info for future harassment. The recent court’s interpretation of the law might also expose Palatine to a hefty $80 million fine. Since there is a 4 year statute of limitations on private lawsuits and each privacy violation carries a $2500 penalty, all those tickets issued during that time frame with the protected info could be in play.
It’s an interesting case about privacy and how others, without malicious intent, may expose personal, sensitive details about an individual. While identity theft due to electronic means, like data breaches, is on the rise, stolen wallets or physical documents (dumpster diving) still account for a good percentage of ID theft crimes. Back in 2009, a Javelin study indicated that stolen wallets and physical documents accounts for 43% of all identity theft (pdf) which means we still need to shred our printed materials.