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Another federal appellate court finds DPPA unconstitutional

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Another federal appellate court finds DPPA unconstitutional 04/19/99 ELEVENTH CIRCUIT--The split between federal circuit courts over the validity of the…

Another federal appellate court finds DPPA unconstitutional

04/19/99

ELEVENTH CIRCUIT–The split between federal circuit courts over the validity of the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act widened in early April when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.) struck down the law as unconstitutional. The Fourth Circuit struck down the DPPA in September 1998, but two other circuits, the Seventh and Tenth, held that the law passed constitutional muster.

Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor filed suit against Attorney General Janet Reno in September 1997 in federal district court in Alabama. In March 1998, the district court held that the DPPA did not violate either the tenth or eleventh amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Pryor then appealed the decision to the appellate court.

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act was passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Characterized as an anti-stalking measure, it aimed to combat the practice of releasing personal information “in connection with a motor vehicle record.” The DPPA prohibited the states from releasing certain personal information, including a person’s name, social security number and photograph unless the state established a system allowing individuals to “opt out.” The law also established fines for violations.

The unanimous panel held that the DPPA unconstitutionally commandeered state officials to implement a federal program and therefore violated state sovereignty. The DPPA established a detailed set of rules under which Alabama’s disclosure of personal information “shall be done as the federal establishment wishes it to be done,” the court found.

“No one disputes that Congress, through the DPPA, has enacted a federal regulatory program to control the dissemination and cloaking of the States’ motor vehicle information,” the court concluded.

“When Congress requires the states to administer a federal program, democratic accountability is diminished and for this reason the Tenth Amendment is offended,” the court noted.

The federal government unsuccessfully argued that the program was necessary to protect individuals’ privacy and safety and that the legislation was a proper exercise of congressional power under the Commerce Clause.

In rejecting the argument, the court noted that although Congress had the power to regulate the commercial sale of the personal information under the Commerce Clause, it “riddled the act with more holes than Swiss cheese,” creating exemptions to protect what it deemed to be legitimate business and governmental uses for the information. “Through these holes escaped most of the interstate commerce activity covered by the Act,” the court observed. (Pryor v. Reno)