The IT Law Wiki


Reno v. Condon, 528 U.S. 141 (2000) (full-text).

Factual Background[]

The Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA) prohibits state departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) and others to whom the DMVs provide information from disclosing a driver's personal information (name, address, phone number, vehicle description, social security number, etc.) without the driver's consent. DMVs that violate the Act are subject to civil penalties.

U.S. Supreme Court Proceedings[]

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a short opinion by Chief Justice Rehnquist, unanimously reversed decisions of the federal Distict Court of South Carolina and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that had sustained a state statute which conflicted with the DPPA.[1] These courts had ruled the DPPA unconstitutional under the Tenth[2] and Eleventh[3] Amendments.

The DPPA Act regulates disclosure and resale of personal information in state motor vehicle records; these

may include a person's name, address, telephone number, vehicle description, Social Security Number, medical information, and photograph. . . . Congress found that many States, in turn, sell this personal information to individuals and businesses. . . . These sales generate significant revenues for the States . . . (the Wisconsin Department of Transportation receives approximately $8 million each year from the sale of motor vehicle information.).

Because the driver's information that the DPPA regulates was historically used by insurers, marketers, and others engaged in interstate commerce to contact drivers with customized solicitations, and therefore this information in this context constitutes “an article of commerce” subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause.

The South Carolina statute held unconstitutional[4] permitted any person or entity that completes a form listing the requester's name and address, and stating that the information will not be used for telephone solicitation, to get all the DMV's records. A driver can get a copy of the request, and may prohibit use of DMV records for certain commercial activities.

Applying the Commerce Clause of the Constitution,[5] the Supreme Court noted that when DMV information is disclosed for commercial purposes, it is used in interstate commerce "to contact drivers with customized solicitations . . . [and] by various public and private entities for matters related to interstate motoring. Because drivers' information is, in this context, an article of commerce, its sale or release into the interstate stream of business is sufficient to support congressional regulation."

Turning to the Tenth Amendment, the Court rejected South Carolina's argument that the DPPA required the state in its sovereign capacity to regulate its own citizens. Said the Court:

The DPPA regulates the States as owners of databases. It does not require the South Carolina Legislature to enact any laws or regulations, and it does not require state officials to assist in the enforcement of federal statutes regulating private individuals.

Finally, in answer to South Carolina's argument that DPPA was unconstitutional because “it regulates the States exclusively,” the Court replied that the law was generally applicable and “regulates the universe of entities that participate as suppliers to the market for motor vehicle information — the States as initial suppliers of the information in interstate commerce and private resellers or redisclosers of that information in commerce.”

Although the Court found that compliance with the DPPA will require time and effort on the part of state employees, the DPPA did not “commander” states in enforcing federal law applicable to private entities. The DPPA regulates state activities directly rather than seeking to control the manner in which states regulate private parties.


  1. 18 U.S.C. §§2721-25.
  2. U.S. Const., 10th amend. (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States Respectively, or to the people”).
  3. U.S. Const., 11th amend. ("The Judiciary Power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State").
  4. S.C. Code §§56-3-510 to 56-3-540.
  5. Article I, § 8, Clause 3: "The Congress shall have Power . . . To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. . . ."