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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Driver’s License Privacy Case Loses Some Sting

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - An lawyer who says lax controls over driver's license records in Minnesota led to 200 intrusions on her personal information does not have a privacy case with regard to less sensitive data like her height, a federal judge ruled.

Brook Mallak claims that an audit revealed unauthorized persons accessed her personal information - including her address, Social Security number, date of birth, height, weight and eye color - by searching her name in a database maintained by the Minnesota Department of Vehicle Services (DVS).

She says her name was searched over 190 times between 2003 and 2012, and that the government agencies had no reasonable motive to perform the searches.

Her lawsuit against 20 city and county governments in Minnesota is among a spate of lawsuits alleging that such entities are violated the Driver's Privacy Protection Act and the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank dismissed various claims Monday under the statute of limitations, saying that the "cause of action accrues at the time information is improperly accessed."

"While plaintiff alleges that defendants exercised 'secrecy' and that plaintiff could not have known about her injury, this is the extent of plaintiff's allegations," the 43-page opinion states. "These allegations do not constitute specific facts regarding fraud, concealment or latent injury and do not rise to the level of being 'inherently unknowable.'"

The finding excludes any 79 searches and subsequent explorations into Mallak's personal information made before Aug. 5, 2009.

Frank did find that Mallak should proceed with the suit as a whole, however, after finding that searches made by name - not license plate number - and searches made at 3 or 4 in the morning justify evidence of a DPPA claim.

"Plaintiff's allegations amount to more than a merely conclusory statement that those defendants conducted an 'impermissible' search," he wrote. "While the allegations are certainly sparse, narrowly drawn discovery should be allowed to address this issue."

In dismissing Mallak's claims that the searches violated her constitutional right to privacy, Frank said "no case has yet found that a constitutional right to privacy exists under the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment for the type of information typically found in driver's licenses and protected by the DPPA (address, color photograph, date of birth, weight, height, and eye color)."

"Certainly, that this information is readily and regularly disclosed anywhere one presents a driver's license shows there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in such information," he added.

Mallak also failed to show that Social Security numbers and medical information divulged on some licenses falls under the protection of privacy statutes.

"It is not in dispute that a person has a privacy interest in avoiding the public disclosure of personal matters, and that SSNs are recognized as sensitive and highly confidential," Frank wrote. "Even so, a privacy interest and a sensitive or highly confidential designation are not the same as having a constitutional right to privacy." (Emphasis in original)

Michael Campion and Ramona Dohman, sued in their capacities as commissioners of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, secured dismissal of the claims against them.

"Here, plaintiff fails to make any allegations that either of the commissioner defendants personally obtained, disclosed, or used personal information from a motor vehicle record," Frank wrote (emphasis in original). "But even if they did, plaintiff fails to allege that the commissioner defendants did so, or did anything at all, with the driver's license information that was 'for a purpose not permitted.'"

Frank ordered the parties to schedule a settlement conference within 60 days.

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