The question of which private companies have access to our personal information and how they use it comes up often in the Internet age. But way back in 2000, the Supreme Court considered what state governments could do with personal information in Reno v. Condon, 528 U.S. 141.
In 1994, Congress learned that many states were selling drivers’ personal information—including names, addresses, phone numbers, vehicle information, medical information, social security numbers, and even photographs—to private entities for profit. Drivers were required to provide this information to the states’ departments of motor vehicles to obtain drivers licenses.
To stop this practice, Congress enacted the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. This law strictly limited state motor-vehicle departments from selling drivers’ information without their consent.
South Carolina was among those states that sold its drivers’ personal information. South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon sued to block the federal law, so that South Carolina could continue selling driver information.
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether Congress had the authority under the Commerce Clause to prohibit states from selling drivers’ information.
The Court upheld the act as a valid exercise of Congress’s commerce power, reasoning that the nationwide sale of personal data was a form of interstate commerce. In addition to the case’s statement on the scope of federal power under the Commerce Clause, Reno also illustrates the balance between state and federal power under the Tenth Amendment.
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