But most of the time he was within his right to do that. I mean, who doesn’t hate drivers who take up two spaces?
This time, however, he went one step too far. In attempting to publicly humiliate someone who he claims he saw break the law, he himself might have broken it.
Here’s what happened. Tim called out someone by name in “An Open Letter to a Litterbug.” He says he saw someone flick a cigarette butt out of the window of a car. He then created a blog post and used the person’s full name several times, meaning he had gotten the information by using a license plate search at a Web site.
What’s wrong with that? Well, it’s illegal for a journalist (or anyone) to use that information in that way. That’s thanks to the Drivers Privacy Protection Act of 1994.
There are ways to be exempt from the law. This isn’t one of them. When Tim went to a reverse license plate search Web site to obtain the person’s name, he had to check a box agreeing to the terms. Here’s an example of what those terms look like:
I certify, and affirm, under penalty of perjury that the below identified DPPA exemption applies to this search and its follow-on displays. Further unauthorized disclosure of this information may result in penalties imposed under Title 18 U..S.C. Section 2721 et. seq., and applicable federal and state law.
He doesn’t qualify for an exemption. For more, check out the Society for Professional Journalists’ FAQ about the law.
Here’s Tim’s original post. It has since been deleted from FrontBurner, which, to me, looks a lot like he’s admitting fault here. We removed the name of the alleged litterbug. Here’s the cached version of the post if you’d rather see it in its original format.
As well-meaning as Tim might have been, he wasn’t in his rights to do that, and the person he named can press criminal and/or civil charges. It’s possible this all might blow over and that the alleged litterbug isn’t overly upset. Either way, let’s hope Tim learned his lesson on this one.
I have sent Tim an e-mail and will allow him the opportunity to respond if he wants. Don’t hold your breath.
Thanks to a very bright LodoWickian for sending me this info.