LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) -- Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has thrown his support behind a federal lawsuit filed by a Michigan man against the publishers of Consumer Reports magazine accusing publication owners of violating state privacy laws in the way the company systematically profits from the unauthorized sale of subscriber information.  

Don Ruppel first filed his class action suit in April, alleging that by not telling him of its plan to offer his customer data to the highest bidder and by not allowing him ample opportunity of opting out of any such maneuvering, publisher Consumers Union violated the state’s 25-year-old Preservation of Personal Privacy Act.

Consumers Union, however, argues that law is unconstitutional. Schuette has intervened to defend the law.

“As Michigan’s chief law enforcement officer, the attorney general has a wide range of responsibilities by law and tradition,” Bradley H. Blatt, a Reed Smith associate in the Recovery Division who specializes in resolving insurance coverage disputes. 

“The attorney general likely chose to defend the law because he believes that protecting a consumer’s personal information from unauthorized disclosure is important.”

More specifically, Ruppel charges that by making available such personal information as his name, address, gender, age, ethnicity and income, Consumers Union caused him to be deluged with a “barrage” of “harassing” mail and telephone solicitations he never wanted.

In an effort to have the case tossed, attorneys for Consumers Union countered Ruppel hasn’t suffered any actual damages, as a recently amended version of the law stipulates a customer must do to legitimately bring about legal action.

In addition, Consumer Union’s team of defense attorneys insists the law explicitly permits making such subscriber lists available for marketing purposes, so long as readers are given notice and allowed the chance to opt out of any such transactions as all their readers are.

Consumers Union reps are also challenging the overall validity of the Preservation of Personal Privacy Act on grounds it violates certain First Amendment free speech protections.

“The First Amendment’s free speech clause has been the subject of extensive litigation, particularly in the area of commercial speech,” Blatt said.

“While some may consider striking down the statute as judicial activism, others may view it as supported by the existing body of cases interpreting commercial speech regulations."

The overall nature of the case is widely seen as a referendum on the way many state and federal governments have started taking a stronger stand in protecting consumer privacy, paving the way for the ruling to possibly serve as somewhat of a blueprint in the way advertisers should seek to balance themselves when it comes to First Amendment protections and state consumer privacy laws.

“In an era where corporate data practices are under increased public scrutiny, states would need to re-evaluate how to provide consumers with meaningful protections while staying within the First Amendment guidelines identified by the court,” Blatt said.

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State of Michigan Office of the Attorney General
525 W Ottawa St
Lansing, MI - 48933

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