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.”
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
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
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
“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
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.
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.