Philly Paying $1.4M After Posting Confidential Gun Permit Information Online

The City of Philadelphia will pay $1.425 million to thousands of citizens in a class-action lawsuit settlement over the release of confidential gun permit information online. The city is also changing how it handles permit data as part of the deal.

The agreement announced on Tuesday would distribute the funds among 3,265 Philadelphians who appealed either having their gun permit revoked or application denied. It still must be formally approved by a Common Pleas judge during an October hearing.

The suit centered around the posting of what attorneys argued was detailed information about individuals who filed an appeal for gun permits with the Department of Licenses & Inspections. The appeals were plotted on an online city map for four days in August 2012. The information included the applicant’s name, address and reason for the appeal.

Benjamin Picker, an attorney with McCausland Keen & Buckman who represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said such information must remain private under Pennsylvania’s firearm laws and that the postings left some people vulnerable.

“Some people listed ‘I carry large sums of money at night’ as part of their appeal and that wound up online,” he said. “This is obviously a public safety issue.”

Picker said the information was posted by the city as part of its Open Data initiative promoting transparency. The data was taken down after the Philadelphia Police Department learned the information had been published.

"They probably didn’t realize that it was against the law to put this information out there," Picker said.

Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, said the city does not admit to wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

“The City could have faced a financial exposure of many millions more than the actual settlement,” he said as to why officials chose to settle.

As part of the agreement, the city will also alter several policies regarding how it handles gun permits -- formally called a License to Carry Firearms or LTCF. The changes include not releasing confidential gun permit information in-person or electronically, no longer requiring applicants to provide references and refund the $15 application fee for those who are denied a permit.

McDonald said the changes would go into effect whenever the settlement is approved.

As for the money, 2,188 people would receive between $440 and $450, according to Picker. Those people actually had their information posted online. The other 1,077 people were not exposed publicly, but Picker said the database may have had security flaws so they were also included in the case. Each plaintiff in the smaller group would get a check for $25.

The settlement approval hearing is set for Oct. 29.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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