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Local Governments and School Districts Blog

Do Municipalities have to Disclose Driver’s License Information?

Authored by Kevin J.T. Terry
Posted on May 12, 2016
Filed under Local Governments and School Districts

On Tuesday, May 10, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that the Drivers Privacy Protection Act, or DPPA, a federal law protecting drivers license data, does not allow Wisconsin police departments to withhold driver information from accident reports.  This ruling reversed St. Croix County Circuit Judge Howard Cameron’s finding that complying with the Public Records Law was a police function that met an exemption exception under the DPPA. 

Congress passed the DPPA in 1994 after a stalker obtained a Hollywood actress’s home address through motor vehicle records and then killed her.  The DPPA restricts the use of personal information obtained from motor vehicle departments.  Although Wisconsin Attorney General assured that this federal law did not require wholesale redaction of information from public records just because it might also be on a drivers license record, many municipal insurers advised municipalities to redact this information to avoid being subject to class actions under federal law.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not buy the City of New Richmond’s argument that the DPPA always preempts Wisconsin’s Public Records Law.  However, the Court was also unwilling to interpret the DPPA as allowing unfettered disclosure of personal information in response to public records requests.  The Court therefore sent the case back to Judge Cameron for more litigation to determine whether or not an exception under the DPPA existed allowing municipalities to redact certain information contained on a drivers license in response to a public records request. 

As this case develops, we will continue to analyze how the decision affects municipality’s assessment of public records requests related to drivers license information.  If you have any questions, please contact the author of this post or Dean R. Dietrich at (715) 845-4336.