S.E. Williams | Contributor
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
– Edward Snowden
Information acquired via a public records request by the publication Motherboard appeared to indicate the California Department of Motor Vehicles is generating revenue by selling California Drivers’ personal information. This was based on information provided by the agency in response to the publication’s request.
The report showed the state’s DMV earned $41,562,735 providing drivers’ information in 2013-14 and the amount increased overtime to $52,048,236 in 2017-18. During this six-year period the state generated an average of $48,456,347 per year providing drivers’ information.
California is not the only state to do so. A September report based on other public records obtained by publication showed DMVs across the country earn tens of millions of dollars annually providing this information. Other states cited in the report included Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and Wisconsin.
Although the information provided by the California DMV in response to the public records request did not include names of the commercial companies requesting the data, other states have been responsive to requests from private investigators, data brokers like LexisNexis and credit agencies like Experian.
Again, there is no confirmation regarding which entities are purchasing CDL information in California. However, the DMV acknowledged included among those who have received drivers’ information are potential employers and insurance companies.
In an interview, Anita Gore, Deputy Director, Office of Public Affairs for the DMV told The IE Voice/Black Voice News the “DMV does not sell driver information for marketing purposes, or to generate revenue outside of the administrative cost of the program.”
According to Gore the DMV is statutorily required to provide certain driver and vehicle related information and is permitted to recover its costs for doing so.
She further stressed the DMV takes its obligation to protect personal information very seriously. “Information is only released,” she acknowledged, “according to California law, and the DMV continues to review its release practices to ensure information is only released to authorized persons/entities and only for authorized purposes.”
To illustrate this Gore cited the following example, “[I]f a car manufacturer wants to send a recall notice to thousands of owners of a particular model of car, the DMV can provide information on California car owners.”
Other examples of when the provision of drivers’ information is deemed appropriate include when you are seeking insurance companies can check your driving record in order to set rates, etc. In other scenarios drivers’ information is provided to banks seeking to set rates for auto loans or employers like trucking companies wishing to ensure a job applicant has a decent driving record.
To Gore’s point, California Vehicle Code Sections 1810 and 1810.2 allow government and commercial requesters who have been issued a requester code by the department to obtain DMV record information for a governmental or legitimate business. “Providing,” according to Gore, “information from DMV records, in addition to most records being open to public inspection as defined in the Vehicle Code is specifically authorized.”
The provision of such information Gore stressed, should be intended to further legislative objectives related to highway and public safety, including the availability of insurance, risk assessment, vehicle safety recalls, traffic studies, emissions research or background checks. She added that such information can also be provided pre and existing employment purposes.
California’s vehicle code covering the release of drivers’ information aligns with the federal prohibition on the release and use of certain personal information from state motor vehicle records.
In conclusion Gore affirmed, “The federal Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act states that information contained in a motor vehicle record cannot be released unless the information is requested and used for a ‘permissible use.’” Permissible use only allows for the release of non-confidential information.
According to Gore there are more than 28 million drivers in California today and she insisted, “Information is not given out without a legitimate purpose.”
The expansion of technology in the lives of Americans coupled with concerns over security breaches, cyber-attacks and the continued unauthorized sharing of users’ personal information may help explain wary concerns over CA DMV’s release of drivers’ information.
The National Council of State Legislators are responding to consumer concerns about privacy and California appears to be at the forefront of this effort. The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 which becomes effective—with amendments—January 1, 2020. It is considered one of the broadest online privacy laws in the nation affecting companies across the country that do business with California residents.