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Those Whom We Elect Must Follow Privacy Laws, Too!


By Elizabeth Dallam Ayoub  | March 11, 2024


Engineers dive into the sea and swim upward into a watertight container when they need to work underwater. The bell-like caisson opens only at the bottom and relies on air pressure to keep the suffocating waters at bay. Here, housed safely inside this protective bubble precious construction workers and engineers repair submerged support structures to bridges and buildings. Throughout history, people have invented ways to protect what is most precious and vulnerable.


Steve Simon, Minnesota’s Secretary of the State, can hardly make that claim, however. Private, personally-identifying information collected from each individual who applies for either a Minnesota driver’s license or a state identification card is treated as neither vulnerable nor precious. This information is transmitted to a secondary party, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). ERIC Sacrifices Teens’ Privacy on the Altar of ‘Election Reform’ (mifairelections.org)


The U.S. Congress ratified Amendment Four to the Constitution of the United States on December 15, 1791. They recognized the individuals’ right to privacy and adopted the amendment to protect the American people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Their intent was clear:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things.... Constitutional Amendment 4 – “The Right to Privacy"

More than 200 years later, U.S. Congress and the executive branch took care to apply this amendment to the electronic age when they enacted the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. The DPPA compels states to protect their citizenry’s personal information. https://www.congress.gov/bill/103rd-congress/house-bill/3365?s=1&r=59


Then ERIC came along and whispered sweet nothings into the Minnesota Secretary of State’s ear. Secretary Simon swooned at ERIC’s false promise to clean the voter rolls. On August 1, 2014, Minnesota joined ERIC, agreeing to share each resident’s name, date of birth (month and year), address, driver’s license or state identification number, and the last four digits of the Social Security number.


Fast forward to October 12, 2023. On this day, two underage Minnesota minors sued the employees of the Secretary of State’s office for unlawfully sharing their personal, protected information in violation of the DPPA. The DPPA allows an individual whose information is unlawfully disclosed to file a lawsuit against any “person who knowingly obtains, discloses or uses personal information, from a motor vehicle record, for a purpose not permitted under the DPPA.”


The plaintiffs asked for no monetary award. They merely asked the court to order state officials to stop sharing their private, personal identifying information (PII). These minors petitioned the court for injunctive and declaratory relief.


At that time, Secretary Simon could simply have admitted his mistake and taken corrective actions, “Okay," he could have said, "we need to protect the private information of young teenage drivers. We will change our ways and follow federal law.” 


Instead, SOS Simon decided to claim citizens are not allowed to sue the state, and the Secretary filed motions urging the court to dismiss the case.


These Plaintiffs, however, were not suing the State of Minnesota. They were suing two Secretary of State employees and holding them personally accountable for breaking the law. Nonetheless, once the Minnesota SOS claimed that the State of Minnesota was being sued, the case became a lengthy legal argument. Minnesota taxpayers will continue to pay the bill for both the state’s contract with ERIC and the court case defending citizen rights to privacy, both prolonged by the recalcitrant Secretary of State.


Meanwhile, Secretary Simon and team continue to share private information with ERIC. Just as disturbing, ERIC’s agreement with the state authorizes it to send residents’ private, protected information to other undisclosed “subcontractors, contractors, and agents” at ERIC’s sole discretion, including the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR) and untold other undisclosed organizations.


Government of the People, for the People, and by the People necessitates that the government must take its marching orders from the People. Government of the People, for the People, and by the People necessitates that we each have the right to say to the government, “You have to follow the law, too.”


Michigan Fair Elections said to the Minnesota Secretary of State, “You have to follow the law, too.” The organization is helping finance this important lawsuit. The results of this case can impact all states involved in ERIC, all states where residents and minors’ personally-identifiable information is being shared without legal authorization with non-governmental agencies and private entities. 


Through the assistance of volunteers and financial donations, Michigan Fair Elections is able to continue this very important work.


Since January 2022, nine states have exited ERIC due to concerns of privacy violations and partisan bias. Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Iowa, Texas, and Virginia withdrew from ERIC, in part, due to concerns over DPPA violations.


Just as a caisson filled with compressed air protects its precious cargo, these states are protecting the people of their states. If only the Minnesota Secretary of State and Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson would see the value of protecting the people they were elected to represent, maybe this and other litigation would be unnecessary.


Thank goodness for our Founding Fathers. In their wisdom they constructed three branches of government to provide a protective caisson filled with checks and balances to stop government overreach and its tendency to violate people’s inalienable rights. They recognized the right to the privacy of one’s “papers and personal effects,” and they put the power to defend this right to privacy into our hands.


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Elizabeth Dallam Ayoub serves on MFE’s Communications Team. She started her career working for an international company, transitioned into teaching French and Latin while her children were young, and then became a Michigan attorney.


 

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Michigan Fair Elections. Every article written by an MFE author is generated by the author or editor alone. Links embedded within the article, however, may have been generated by artificial intelligence.










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