Magazine article Editor & Publisher

License Secrecy Law Struck Down

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

License Secrecy Law Struck Down

Article excerpt

A FEDERAL LAW that would shroud driver's license information in secrecy is unconstitutional, a judge ruled in blocking its enforcement in South Carolina.

State Attorney General Charlie Condon challenged the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 on behalf of media groups from five states and two national media organizations. Condon contended the law was an improper infringement on states' rights.

Congress "clearly exceeded its power." in enacting the law, U.S. District Judge Dennis Shedd said.

The government, which argued that the law would prevent stalkers from tracking their victims, also failed to show that it is needed to protect a constitutional right of privacy, he said.

"This is a real victory for open governments and open records," said Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association: "South Carolina already has a very good law to protect people from stalkers and harassing phone calls."

The law would make almost everything in state motor vehicle records that can be looked up using a licence plate or driver's licence numbers off-limits unless an individual consents to its release.

A total of 34 states make motor vehicle records public in some form, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

"Today, South Carolina won a landmark victory in our battle against attempts by a government in Washington to regulate and control every, aspect of our lives," Condon, a Republican, said. Shedd's ruling only blocks enforcement of the law in South Carolina.

The only state to challenge it so far is Oklahoma.

The law was sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in response to the 1989 slaying of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, who was killed at her California home by a man who used a private investigator to obtain her driver's records.

The federal law still would keep motor vehicle records open to police, private investigators, insurance companies, credit agencies and direct-marketing companies.

States that did not designate their records as secret could face federal penalties of $5,000 a day.

State workers who give out such information could be penalized $2,500 each time.

"We are very disappointed by judge Shedd's decision. We think that driver's privacy protection is an important anticrime measure," Boxer's Washington spokesman David Sandretti said. "We will be contacting the Justice Department and urging an appeal."

Joe Krovisky, a U.S. Justice Department spokesman, said he could not comment because his agency. had not seen Shedd's ruling. Agency officials have 60 days to decide whether to appeal to the 4th U. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.