Freedom of Information Act Provides Court Win for Florida Newspaper

Tallahassee Democrat wins case related to FOIA, photo credit: MKHyde

Tallahassee Democrat wins case related to FOIA, photo credit: MKHyde

In August 2012, a Florida newspaper won their case centered on the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).  The case was between the newspaper and the city of Tallahassee as well as the company Affiliated Computer Services (“ACS”).  The case surrounded the request from the Tallahassee Democrat to have names of all red light camera ticket recipients provided to them.  According to an article published the day after the ruling, the paper requested “a year’s worth of notices so it could analyze how the program was being administered,” and the goal was to distinguish “the identity of city and county employees who received notices.” The city filed their suit immediately after the initial request on July 15, 2011, on the grounds of fear of disclosure and preferred the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida to decide whether the freedom of information request was barred under federal statutes designed to protect motorist privacy.

Strict enforcement aims to deter motorists from running red lights, Orlando, Fla; photo credit: MKHyde

Strict enforcement aims to deter motorists from running red lights, Orlando, Fla; photo credit: MKHyde

Since the Tallahassee Democrat believed the records should have been provided to them and the city of Tallahassee did not, the city referred to the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”).  The DPPA was amended in 1999 to reflect the requirement for a “drivers’ consent before states can release personal information contained in an individual’s department of motor vehicles record, even when the information is requested en masse for a generalized marketing purpose.”   Tallahassee believed the law coincided with their denial of the request.  The Tallahassee Democrat believed the records are public and were wrongfully withheld. The court ruled in favor of the Tallahassee Democrat on the ground that Florida’s broad public record law “requires release of the requested information.” U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle explained that, “Once properly used in a court proceeding, the information is public and can be disclosed without limits.”

Former Tallahassee resident, Andrea Watson, and a recipient of a ticket  for running a red light, expresses her sentiments on this case saying, “As long as my identity is not stolen, I am OK with records being used for a study.  If someone unsavory is going to be viewing them however, then I say they should be kept confidential.”  Watson also states, “I would not find myself wanting to sue anyone for the release of my records in this exact scenario.  I don’t find it worth fighting for monetarily because let’s face it, legal fees would most likely cost more than it’s worth.”

Red light runners can face heavy charges in numerous ways, Orlando, Fla; photo credit: MKHyde

Red light runners can face heavy charges in numerous ways, Orlando, Fla; photo credit: MKHyde