11th Circuit Weighs Privacy and the Sharing of Drivers Photos

ATLANTA (CN) – An attorney for three Florida residents told the 11th Circuit on Thursday that his clients’ privacy rights were violated when the Orange County Sheriff’s Office distributed their driver’s license photos to Florida state legislators in 2011.

Leslie Baas, Tracy Osteen and Doyle Napier sued Michael Fewless and John McMahon in April 2015, claiming the sheriff’s office employee of “intentionally disseminated” their driver’s license photos to members and staff of the  Florida Senate Judiciary Committee.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Gerasimos “Jerry” Theophilopoulos argued that in doing so, Fewless and McMahon violated the Florida Driver Privacy Protection Act.

“Where it steps over the line is when you use people’s pictures,” Theophilopoulos said. “They are highly sensitive under this law.”

According to the lawsuit, Fewless “attempted to shock the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee” in 2011 by unlawfully providing the committee with photos from the state driver’s license database in a bid to encourage lawmakers not to strike down Senate Bill 234, which would authorize open display of a firearm.

Fewless is accused of using the plaintiffs’ photos because they are in a motorcycle gang.

“You’re going to have bikers that look mean,” Theophilopoulos said. “These three had nothing to do with this bill whatsoever.”

Theophilopoulos said the defendants “didn’t want them having open carry guns in tourist areas like Orlando.”

“How does that make the public more safe?” Theophilopoulos said. “This was a strict image issue.”

Ian Forsythe of Florida-based Hilyard, Bogan & Palmer in Orlando, told the judges that “lobbying is a function of the law enforcement agency.”

“It wasn’t presented in a public hearing, it was presented in their chamber,” Forsythe said, adding that none of the plaintiffs’ information was disseminated along with their photos.

U.S. Circuit Judge Charles Wilson asked Forsythe if a line would be crossed if their pictures had been posted on a billboard that encouraged people to call their legislators to tell them to vote against the bill.

“It may cross the line,” Forsythe said.

In his rebuttal, Theophilopoulos said his clients were all “unsuspecting and law abiding citizens” who had open carry permits and were wrongly made to suffer as a result.

Osteen, Theophilopoulos said, was a marine with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was so distraught after his photo was published in the Orlando Sentinel he moved to North Carolina.

“The line was crossed and it was underhanded in the manner it was done,” Theophilopoulos said.

The judges did not give a timetable for their decision.

 

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