Privacy and Freedom: Overview of Michigan’s Preservation of Personal Privacy Act

In the age of ever-expanding digital connectivity and surveillance capabilities, the line between private and public life is becoming increasingly blurred. Rewind to the 80s, legislation aimed to protect individual privacy rights emerged as counterbalances to the collection of data in video rentals. Fast-forward to today, and Michigan’s Preservation of Personal Privacy Act (PPPA) has been applied as an attempt to salvage personal privacy from an encroaching tide of data breaches and privacy exposures.

Introduced in 1988, Michigan’s PPPA was enacted in response to investigation into politician’s VHS rental history. The PPPA is designed to protect individuals from unwanted intrusions into their privacy by persons looking to collect, disseminate, or monetize personal information. Essentially, it prohibits the unauthorized disclosure, use, or sale of records that contain personal details about an individual’s buying or borrowing habits.

The PPPA initially arose from a privacy concern related to the sale and use of video rental records, but it has since grown to encompass records from bookstores, video rental stores, and various other businesses. The law had been a beacon of privacy protection, ensuring Michiganders maintain control over their personal information.

The PPPA’s fundamental purpose is laudable, it aims to protect citizens from potential exploitation in a society growing more reliant on personal data every day. It bestowed individuals with a legal shield to guard against intrusive practices by businesses.

However, as we step into the age of digital transformation and big data, this nearly 35-year-old law poses intriguing challenges. Given the law’s broad language and definitions, one can interpret that it could apply to online retailers, digital platforms, and potentially even social media companies. However, today it may have limited application to the internet. Deacon v. Pandora Media, Inc. (2016) 885 N.W.2d 628, 499 Mich. 477. The Court’s interpretation might provide a loophole for digital-only businesses to bypass PPPA’s regulations.

On the one hand, the PPPA had enabled Michiganders to enjoy a level of privacy unmatched in many other states, however it seems as though it has largely become obsolete. Legal scholars and policy-makers are encouraged to reconsider, adapt, and modernize laws like PPPA to ensure that privacy protections keep pace with the rapidly evolving technological landscape.

Politicians in the 80s reacted to the investigation by journalists into their video rental histories by passing the act. And Michigan’s Preservation of Personal Privacy Act represented a significant legislative move toward safeguarding privacy rights in an era where such rights are under threat. However, to ensure that it remains effective in the age of big data and digital commerce, the legislation needs to undergo thoughtful revision and modernization. And it appears as this particular moment politicians are uninterested in closing the digital hole in privacy.