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Privacy secrecy law for driver's records struck down
<B>Judge blocks driver's records secrecy law in
<B>By MONA BRECKENRIDGE<P>
<B>Associated Press Writer<P>
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A federal law that prohibits
the release of personal information from driver's
licenses and car registrations is unconstitutional, a
judge ruled Thursday in blocking enforcement of the
law in South Carolina starting this weekend.
State Attorney General Charlie Condon had 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.
U.S. District Judge Dennis Shedd agreed, ruling that
Congress "clearly exceeded its power."
He said the government, which argued that the law
would prevent stalkers from tracking their victims,
failed to show that it was necessary to protect a
constitutional right of privacy.
Drivers should not expect their names, license
numbers, addresses, phone numbers and photographs to
be private, the judge said.
Shedd's ruling blocks enforcement of the law, which
is to take effect nationwide on Saturday, in South
Carolina only. The only other state to challenge the
law so far has been Oklahoma, where the case is
"This is a real victory for open governments and
open records," said Bill Rogers, executive director of
the South Carolina Press Association. "South Carolina
already has a very good law to protect people from
stalkers and harassing phone calls."
Thirty-four states make motor vehicle records public
in some form, according to the Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press.
The federal law would restrict almost everything
in state motor vehicle records that can be looked up
using a license plate or driver's license numbers,
unless an individual agrees to its release.
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 law, however, might not have prevented
Schaeffer's slaying, since it would keep motor vehicle
records open to police, private investigators,
insurance companies, credit agencies and
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 anti-crime measure," said David Sandretti,
Boxer's spokesman in Washington.
Justice Department spokesman Joe Krovisky said he
could not comment because the agency had not seen
Shedd's ruling. Agency officials have 60 days to
decide whether to appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals, he said.
Shedd relied partly on the U.S. Supreme Court's June
ruling on the so-called Brady Law, in which the
justices said Congress could not make local police do
criminal background checks on people who want to buy
"Unquestionably, the states have been, and remain
... responsible for maintaining motor vehicle records,
and these records constitute property of the states,"
The media groups that challenged the law were the
press associations of South Carolina, North Carolina,
Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland-Delaware, and the
Newspaper Association of America and the American
Society of Newspaper Editors.