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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Privacy Case Flunks |’Duck Test,’ Court Says

(CN) - The 7th Circuit dismissed an invasion-of-privacy class action filed by Illinois citizens who submitted voter registration forms at the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The complaint flunks the "duck test," Judge Terence Evans wrote, because the lead plaintiff "says, in effect, that if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it sure as heck isn't a duck."

Lead plaintiff Joseph Lake said his personal information was leaked after he filled out a registration form, which he submitted with his application for a driver's license.

A man named Peter Zelchenko allegedly obtained Lake's name, date of birth, sex, address, phone number and Social Security number by simply asking the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners for it.

Lake argued that this violated the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, which allows suits against anyone "who knowingly obtains, discloses or uses personal information, from a motor vehicle record" for illegal purposes.

But Lake's claim hinged on whether the voter registration form constitutes a "motor vehicle record" under the Act - or, as Judge Evans put it, whether the creature that walks, swims and quacks like a duck is, in fact, a duck.

The court ruled that it wasn't, upholding the lower court's dismissal of the case.

And because a voter registration form filled out at the DMV is not a motor vehicle record, Evans ruled, the board could not have violated the law by disclosing Lake's personal information.

Evans added that accepting Lake's argument would "lead to an absurd result," as state law requires the board to make voter registration forms available to the public.

"If it is against federal law for the Board to disclose the voter information it receives from the DMV, but against state law not to make it publicly available, the Board will likely be forced to stop accepting voter registration forms received from the DMV," Evans wrote. "That would nullify an important purpose of the (National Voter Registration Act)."

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