A federal judge yesterday denied Mobile County License Commissioner Kim Hastie’s request to dismiss one of the 17 charges pending against her in an ongoing corruption case. A week ago, Hastie filed a motion arguing her alleged misuse of a public email database was invalid, because the addresses she obtained were not “personal information” as defined by the statute.
The charge, tacked on to 16 unrelated charges two months after she was originally indicted, is rooted in an alleged scheme to send out an email message of support for the mayoral campaign of Sandy Stimpson in late 2013. Prosecutors claim Hastie directed an employee, against his or her will, to download email addresses to receive the message from a License Commission database.
Prosecutors believe the episode was a violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) of 1994, which “restricts the states’ ability to disclose a driver’s personal information without the driver’s consent.”
In the statute, email addresses were not explicitly listed as “personal information.” Instead, it defines it as “information that identifies an individual, including an individual’s photograph, social security number, driver identification number, name, address (but not the five-digit zip code), telephone number, and medical or disability information.”
The DPPA was created amid concerns that personal information collected by state agencies was being shared or sold. In her order, U.S. District Court Judge Callie Granade agreed with the prosecution’s argument that the statute was not designed to be enforced within its “narrowest possible meaning” and noted it was written at a time when email addresses were not routinely collected along with more established “personal information.”
“Hastie’s argument that email addresses are not ‘personal information’ because the are not explicitly listed in the DPPA ignores both common sense and the evolution of electronic media and communication over the past twenty years,” the order reads. “Hastie also argues customers voluntarily disclosed their email addresses to the License Commission; therefore, the DPPA does not protect this information. Again, this ignores the reality of doing business in an electronic age. To conduct online business with the License Commission, an email address is required. Customers arguable could transact all of their License Commission business in person, but that would burden drivers as much as it would burden the Commission. Additionally, forcing customers to transact business with the License Commission in person simply to protect against the unauthorized disclosure of their personal email addresses clearly goes against the purpose of the DPPA.”
Also yesterday, the court ordered the prosecution to respond to the defendant’s motion to reconsider an order that dismissed the scheduled testimony of Dr. Semoon Chang, who authored a favorable economic study of Hastie’s plan to consolidate the offices of License and Revenue commissions.
The judge has yet to rule on a motion from the prosecution earlier this week to disqualify one of Hastie’s defense attorneys for a conflict of interest. Jury selection in the case is scheduled for May 2015.