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Chicago parking garage customers sue companies over data privacy concerns

Chicago parking garage customers sue companies over data privacy concerns
Chicago parking garage customers sue companies over data privacy concerns 03:35

CHICAGO (CBS) – First, CBS 2's reporting on privacy concerns at a Chicago movie theater sparked a state investigation, and then it inspired a new bill and a class action lawsuit.

At the Regal Cinemas on Western Avenue, complaints about privacy went public in August when CBS 2 started asking questions of the companies that operate in the attached parking garage.

Now, a class action lawsuit accused ABM Industries, Flashparking, and Parkpliant  of violating a federal law that protects the use of driver information. The filing was made on behalf of "hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals whose motor vehicle records were accessed by defendants," according to the lawsuit.

"That information shouldn't be able to be used for parking tickets like this," Matt McNally, one of the customers who was fined, said to CBS 2 last December.

People like McNally reached out to CBS 2 because they were upset about being tracked down after their cars were caught on camera leaving the garage without paying for parking. A collections notice arrived at McNally's mother's house.

Jake Pikula's parents in the suburbs received an $80 fine via text, even though they were not at the Chicago theater with him.

"It just felt very creepy," Pikula said, adding, "How did they have my dad's phone number?"

The class action lawsuit asks for $2,500 per person who was affected. Lawyers said customers were caused "great distress" by the parking companies' "misusing their protected information" and "invading their privacy" through a "harassing debt collection campaign."

The lawsuit cited CBS 2's reporting several times.

"Consumers have a legitimate reason to ask questions," said State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago).

Feigenholtz is a lead sponsor for the "Driver and Motor Vehicle Records Data Privacy Law," a bill introduced in Springfield a few weeks ago.

"We really need to sort of close these loopholes," she said.

The loopholes Feigenholtz referenced were in regard to how the Secretary of State's Office shares motor vehicle information.

"What we want to avoid, and what's important to me, is making sure this private, personal information is not in the wrong hands," said Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias.

Giannoulias told CBS 2 in December about plans for the proposed law that would shore up access agreements like the ones everyone who buys driver information already signs.

But the new bill would require purchasers that want to resell data to get their customer to also sign an access agreement. That would help the state track who has what information and who might be abusing it. It would then be a crime to share or use motor vehicle records without authorization from the Secretary of State's Office.

"People across the state should be as outraged as I am based on your important story bringing this to light," Giannoulias said to CBS 2 in December.

None of the companies at the Chicago parking garage are on the state's approved vendors list. Investigators were still trying to figure out how they connected license plate numbers to addresses and cell phone numbers.

Reporter: "From your conversations with Alexi's office, how much do you think our reporting affected this becoming a bill?"

Feigenholtz: "I think that them watching how you reported it and put the story together was the catalyst in lawmaking, and I thank you for that Lauren."

State investigators said they've received vague information from the companies operating at the movie theater parking garage. Flash and ABM Parking both would not comment on the pending litigation, but ABM did say they are actively reviewing data collection and privacy practices.

ABM said in a statement, "We take our customer's privacy very seriously. We appreciate the importance of protecting individuals' private information and are actively reviewing the data collection and privacy practices of our operations and our third-party technology vendors in response. We are unable to comment specifically on pending litigation." 

Flash Parking said in a statement, "It is our policy not to comment on pending litigation. Flash has previously provided information regarding our role in the processes. We would note that the overwhelming majority of consumers comply with the terms and conditions of the posted signage. 

In those rare occasions where a consumer does not comply with the terms and conditions of the posted signage, Flash uses industry standard License Plate Recognition (LPR) technology to capture license plates which it sends to Parkpliant, a third-party parking compliance vendor, to match with vehicle registration information. Parkpliant understands and abides by applicable privacy laws."

The third company involved, ParkPliant, ignored CBS 2's email and was also ignoring the state's official requests.

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