Originally created 01/27/99

Condon plans suit to stop use of photos



COLUMBIA -- South Carolina drivers aren't the only ones unhappy that their driver's license photos were sold to a private company.

State Attorney General Charlie Condon said Tuesday he was shocked and outraged and he intends to sue Image Data LLC to prevent its using the 3.5 million photos bought from the state Public Safety Department, calling it "Big Brother hustling for bucks."

"This action constitutes invasion of privacy on a grand scale," Mr. Condon said. "Our constitution does not allow the commercial exploitation of South Carolinians in this way."

Mr. Condon, who said his office has fielded calls from angry consumers, said he would sue in state court next month.

Nashua, N.H.-based Image Data received so many calls from South Carolina residents Monday that callers got busy signals, no answer or a recorded message saying the system's memory was full.

"We sincerely apologize to consumers," said Lorna Christie, Image Data vice president of public affairs. "We have responded as quickly as we can to making sure we can respond to consumer calls."

The deluge of calls came after reports that the Public Safety Department sold the photos last year for $5,000. Image Data says it bought them to test a system designed to prevent check fraud by providing photos to stores for employees to verify customers' identities.

Under South Carolina law, the photos cannot be sold or used for any reason other than fraud prevention.

The Public Safety Department can remove photos from the database at a customer's written request, agency spokeswoman Marlous Black said.

Sen. Verne Smith, D-Greer, said he would introduce a bill to stop future picture sales. "There's no reason I can think of that they ought to be selling (pictures) like that," Mr. Smith said.

Senate Majority Leader John Land, D-Manning, said he still thinks Public Safety should be able to sell photos to battle check and credit card fraud, though he said the agency didn't charge Image Data enough.

With the pictures available, "every time someone rips off your credit cards, you know it doesn't have to come back to you," Mr. Land said.

Image Data is also purchasing Florida driver's licenses and is in negotiations to buy Colorado licenses.

"I'm surprised we're one of the first in on this because South Carolina prides itself on individual rights," Mr. Condon said. "I would have hoped we'd be one of the last states to do it."

ContactsTo contact Image Data, call (603) 598-7500 or fax the company at (603) 598-0244. Internet users can contact info@imagedatallc.com. A toll-free number, (888) 887-8343, will be available later this week.

People who don't want their photo used by Image Data can write to the state Public Safety Department, Division of Motor Vehicles, Attention: Mike Yandle, P.O. Box 1498, Columbia, S.C. 29216.