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If living in the information age has taught us anything, it’s that our personal information is not safe in the hands of private companies. It’s somewhat more disconcerting to learn that our information is not safe in the hands of the government, either. An investigation by Vice found that, in several states, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) supplements its income by selling drivers’ personal information—including their names, dates of birth, addresses, and the cars they own—to third parties.
Florida’s motor-vehicle-licensing department made $77 million that way in 2017, and California’s DMV made $52 million. And they’re not the only ones. DMVs across the country—including those in Delaware, Indiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, among others—are profiting, too.
This is legal under a 1994 federal law known as the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). The law was intended to limit public access to personal data after a woman was murdered by a stalker who had hired a private investigator to obtain her address from DMV records. But the DPPA outlines 14 exceptions to the limitations on selling and disclosing data, including one for PIs.
How does this affect you? For one thing, your state’s lax attitude toward privacy could be adding to your pile of junk mail. In addition to manufacturers informing you of recalls, companies may purchase your address to send you advertisements for auto loans, extended warranty coverage, and other things no one wants. For another, once your information has been sold to a third party, it can be sold again and again. As if making a trip to the DMV weren’t bad enough.
Senators Speak Out
From the April 2020 issue.