Court Orders Town to Reimburse $3 Million in Unconstitutional Speed Camera Tickets
The Ohio Court of Appeals ordered the town of New Miami, Ohio to pay back over $3 million in speed camera tickets, affirming a lower court decision from 2017, and ending a six-year legal battle over the town’s speed camera usage. New Miami is a tiny town – less than a single square mile – but it will now be sending out $3,066,523 in refunds to various drivers who passed through the town on US 127, a major highway. New Miami has been using speed cameras to have the local police issue speeding tickets by mailing the tickets directly to drivers, without any involvement from the criminal justice system or from insurance companies.
The court noted that because recipients of these tickets were unable to challenge their tickets, New Miami’s methods resulted in a “denial of due process.” Additionally, the court was wary of New Miami’s relationship to the speed camera provider, Blue Line Solutions. Blue Line gave New Miami the traffic cameras for free, in return for New Miami agreeing both to run the cameras for at least 100 hours a month and to split the fines from the camera tickets with the company. The relationship naturally encouraged New Miami to become a speed trap where police could issue easy tickets to score both the town and the camera company money.
New Miami tried claiming a sovereign immunity defense by arguing that it cannot be liable for monetary damages in a civil suit, but the Appeals Court was not swayed, noting that this lawsuit was seeking refunds and not ordinary monetary damages. The Appeals Court quoted the Ohio Supreme Court that “a suit that seeks the return of specific funds wrongfully collected…is not barred by sovereign immunity.” This $3 million payback fine will fall now entirely on New Miami; Blue Line Solutions is not liable if the town deployed the cameras unlawfully. Despite the blow, the court assured New Miami that it “has the authority to enforce its traffic laws…in a constitutional manner.”
ICE Gets Access to a Nationwide License Plate Database
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency got its own holiday gift this year, finalizing a contract in late December that will grant them query-based access to a nationwide license plate database. The agency made this push back in 2014, but tucked the idea away in the face of backlash. In light of the government’s recent focus on immigration, however, ICE was finally able to close the deal and tap into an existing license plate database containing billions of plates. As a result of the deal, ICE can now avoid building such a database themselves.
Russell Brandom at The Verge reports that an ICE representative said the data came from Vigilant Solutions (though Vigilant has declined to confirm any such contract). Vigilant has been scanning license plates and compiling data for years in partnership with vehicle repossession agencies, local law enforcement agencies, and other private groups. Their current database contains around two billion plate/location records. ICE will have access to these plates going at least five years back – that is, ICE will be able to do a historical search and see every place that a particular plate has been spotted in the past five years. ICE will also be able to develop a “hot list” and be notified any time a plate on the list is found. A DHS privacy assessment claims that such use of license plate data can help “determine the whereabouts of subjects of criminal investigations or priority aliens to facilitate their interdiction and removal.”
These recent developments are giving rise to concern amongst various populations. With this new access, the Department of Homeland Security can effectively track much of the national population. At least one state took steps to try increasing privacy in the wake of these developments. California introduced a bill that would have allowed drivers to put removable covers on license plates when cars are lawfully parked. However, the California Senate voted down the bill on January 30, leaving Californians stuck with the rest of the nation, uncertain of what this new contract will mean for individual privacy.
Courts Rule Social Media Cannot Be Held Responsible for Acts of Terrorism
In recent cases, courts have ruled both Facebook and Twitter not liable for the actions of terrorists who used the social media platforms. The Facebook ruling was in the Eastern District of New York, while the Twitter ruling was in the 9th Circuit.
These types of lawsuits are not new. Several lawsuits have been filed in the past, often by the family members of victims, seeking to hold social media companies responsible when terrorists use their platforms to communicate or recruit. These lawsuits often attempt to circumvent the immunity that CDA Section 230 grants to social networking sites by using novel applications of legal concepts. Tim Cushing at TechDirt explains that the two recent Facebook cases were thrown out for failure to state a claim, noting that “terrorists us[ing] social media to recruit and communicate does not somehow turn social media platforms into material support for terrorism.” In fact, the New York District Court opinion notes that the plaintiffs’ claims to hold Facebook liable were “completely disingenuous” and “border[ ] on mendacious.” Despite the strong language and the dismissal, it seems likely that plaintiffs will appeal the district court’s decision to try and maintain their case.
However, even the appeal may prove unsuccessful, much like the appeal in a California suit trying to hold Twitter liable for providing “material support” to ISIS terrorists. The California District Court had also dismissed the initial lawsuit, calling plaintiffs’ claims that Twitter violated the Anti-Terrorism Act “tenuous at best.” On appeal, the 9th Circuit judges noted that “[they] conclude that Twitter has the better of the argument,” ruling unanimously that the plaintiffs did not show sufficient relationship between Twitter and any of the terrorists’ actions. The plaintiffs could continue their suit by filing for an en banc hearing or by appealing to the Supreme Court. However, it appears as though courts may have made up their minds that social media platforms are safe from responsibility for the conduct of their users and seem unwilling to undermine Section 230 immunity any time soon.
Zach Buchanan is a 1L student at Harvard Law School.