by Mark Wilson
The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) does not prohibit public disclosure of information contained in vehicle accident reports from being released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Attorney Daniel Wren sent a FOIA request to the Arkansas State Police (ASP), requesting to inspect automobile accident reports for the period of May 1, 2015 through May 21, 2015. He wanted the reports to identify parties to solicit as potential clients for his law practice.
Effective January 1, 2015, ASP adopted a policy requiring redaction of personal identifying information contained in accident reports unless one of 14 DPPA exceptions applied. This policy ended a prior practice of allowing in-bulk inspection of accident reports, but specific reports could still be purchased for $10 each. The policy provided that all non-personal information contained within accident reports would be released to a requesting third party. This included information such as where, when, and how a crash occurred and the type of vehicle involved.
Wren filed a state court FOIA action, and a hearing was held on June 5, 2015. At issue was whether the DPPA applied to the personal information contained in the accident reports, as ASP asserted. The trial court ultimately issued a July 8, 2015 order, concluding that the DPPA did not preclude public disclosure of the information and enjoining ASP's policy of redacting accident reports.
Finding that the appeal presented an issue of first impression, the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed. "Keeping in mind the intent of Congress in passing the DPPA, it is clear that a vehicle-accident report is not included in the definition of 'motor vehicle record,'" the Court held. "Furthermore, Congress specifically provided that 'personal information' does not include information on vehicular accidents." The Court affirmed the circuit court's ruling "because the DPPA does not prohibit information contained in accident reports from being released under FOIA."
See: Arkansas State Police v. Wren, 2016 Ark 188, SW.3d (Ark 2016).
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