Jacksonville settles trooper’s privacy lawsuit over police use of driver database
Jacksonville has settled a lawsuit by a Highway Patrol trooper who said two police officers used a database available for police investigations to find information about her for their personal use.
That agreement should prevent a court fight between city attorneys and the U.S. Justice Department over the city’s argument that the law Trooper Donna Jane Watts sued under was unconstitutional.
Watts sued police around Florida after being harassed with phone calls and prank pizza deliveries following her 2011 arrest of a Miami police officer she logged driving 120 mph on his way to an off-duty job.
Information including her home address is supposed to be confidential under state laws written to protect police.
But information Watts received from the state through a public records request showed that after the arrest, about 90 officers in dozens of agencies looked up information about her in a database of driver’s license records.
Watts argued those police — whom she said included Brijin Pemberton and Pamela Abboud of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office — violated the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which limits access to private data.
While Watts settled some cases, Jacksonville decided to fight, arguing she didn’t have a legal reason to sue.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court earlier ruled the law Watts cited is constitutional, city attorneys said the law was written to prevent companies buying and selling drivers’ personal information, so the law regulated commerce, which the Constitution allows Congress to do.
What police agencies do with the same information isn’t commerce, the city argued, so using that law to restrict police activity would require power that Congress doesn’t have.
A federal judge rejected a similar argument when the Orange County Sheriff’s Office used it, but the city argued that judge had misunderstood the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The Justice Department disagreed, sending a notice at the end of December that its attorneys would argue the point in Jacksonville, if needed.