Is Information on a Computer Screen Printed?

A court in Illinois has recently held that showing a credit card number on a computer screen did not constitute printing that number: Kelleher v. Eaglerider, Inc., 2010 WL 4684037 (N.D.Ill., Nov. 10 2010). Internet Cases has the story.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 [PDF] (FACTA) says that a merchant must not print out a receipt with more than the last five digits of a credit card number. Someone who did a transaction saw his full number on the screen, and sued for damages for breach of the statute. He lost.

In my view, I’m pleased to see that the courts will not be the dupe of people who want to distort the clear intent of the statute in order to collect damages that they have not suffered.

FACTA is clearly intending to prevent full credit card info (including expiry date) that someone could use to buy things, from falling into the hands of someone other than the cardholder. Showing the information on the screen to the cardholder hardly presents the same risk. There is no reason to assume that FACTA intended to reduce the risks from shoulder-surfing (and it’s not clear that the numbers were displayed in a form that anyone not right in front of the screen could see).

The more interesting case would be if someone were claiming that the screen shot validated the transaction, because printing was necessary, rather than being the ground for collateral attack (‘collateral’ because the issue in this case and the one cited had nothing to do with the transaction itself.) Could a court find a way past the Kelleher decision when the transaction deserved validation? (What about all those cases holding that electronic messages were the equivalent of writing? Can they be the equivalent of printing? Does it matter if there is a way for the computer user to print the information? Does our e-commerce/e-transactions legislation help? Is there a useful difference between printing and writing for these cases?)

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