Somerville yesterday asked a federal judge to keep the state from making it hand over the names, addresses and phone numbers of Somerville residents with parking permits to a Globe reporter.
In a lawsuit filed in US District Court in Boston, the city says handing over the data would be "a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" of permit holders. The Secretary of State's office disagrees.
At issue is a request Globe reporter Todd Wallack made last October seeking the records of all residential parking-permit holders in Somerville. In response, the city said it would provide some of the information - but not the first names, last names, addresses, Zip codes, e-mail addresses and phone numbers of permit holders.
Wallack appealed to the Secretary of State's office, which has now twice ordered the city to hand over the data - most recently on June 5.
The city says this violates the Driver Protection Privacy Act, which limits information that can be made publicly available about motorist records, as well as a section of the state Public Records Law related to data that provides "intimate detail of a highly personal nature."
The Secretary of State's office, however, says the driver privacy law only applies to records maintained by the Registry of Motor Vehicles, not cities and towns, and that there is nothing "intimate," in the data, such as "marital status, paternity, substance abuse, government assistance, family disputes and reputation."
In contrast, "names, addresses and telephone numbers are regularly available to the public through other sources such as voter lists and census records," so disclosure of the records to the Globe is mandated by the Public Records Law, state Supervisor of Records Shawn Williams wrote the city.
In its suit, the city replies:
By turning over the first name, last name, address, zip code, phone numbers, and email addresses of permit holders acquired by the City in connection with motor vehicle related permits, the City would effectively be turning over the same information for which the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act contemplated non-disclosure, thereby frustrating the purpose of the Act.
Beyond the privacy issues, the city argues releasing the data would violate the equal-protection clause of the US constitution - and its state equivalent, "by creating an unlawful classification between drivers based upon whether they afford themselves of the privilege of obtaining a resident parking permit."
In addition to asking the state be permanently enjoined from making the city turn over the information, the city suit asks a judge to bar any action on release of the data until the suit is settled.