Seventh Circuit Review


The Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 restricts states from disclosing personal identifying information contained in an individual's motor vehicle record without that person's express consent. The DPPA was a response to tragic incidents in which such information was released to members of the public who used it to locate people and commit crimes against them. However, Congress inserted into the Act a list of fourteen exceptions under which certain parties may still access these state records for specific "permissible uses." These exceptions recognized the need for such disclosure in the interests of the legitimate operational needs of government and some business entities, including law enforcement administration.

However, the protections Congress intended to give licensed drivers in DPPA are mostly meaningless when the party requesting private information is a business or government entity that invokes one of the exceptions, which have been broadly interpreted by the courts. When the party disclosing private information is a law enforcement agency, it is especially difficult for an individual to succeed in an action under DPPA no matter how unreasonable or unnecessary the use of his information appears. Such was the case in Senne vs. Palatine, a 2011 Seventh Circuit decision that was vacated and argued before an en banc panel in February 2012, in which the court for the first time addressed how far a public entity may go in using an individual's personal information pursuant to the enumerated exceptions in the law.

This Note discusses how the Seventh Circuit and other federal courts have interpreted this exceptions clause and argues that it is allowing courts to find loopholes that were not intended by the drafters of DPPA. This Note concludes that federal courts should narrowly apply the exceptions in keeping with the original intent of the law to protect drivers' privacy.

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