When you give you information to the DMV, you probably don’t think it’s going to sell that information for profit. But across the country, that’s exactly what is happening. Private investigators, consumer credit rating companies and a whole host of other businesses and individuals that deal in information to access your name and address if you happen to have a driver’s license.
That’s according to an investigation from Vice’s Motherboard released Friday, which details the practices of DMVs in Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and Wisconsin from 2014 to today. The report found a whole host of agencies were allowed to access to driver’s data for fees as small as $0.01.
So why do the state agencies do this? Money.
Motherboard found the answer with various DMVs own documents:
DMVs are making a lot of money from the sale of this data. The Rhode Island DMV made at least $384,000 selling personal data between 2015 and this year, according to a spreadsheet obtained by Motherboard. When asked how much the Wisconsin DMV made from selling driver records, a spokesperson wrote in an email “Per these 2018 DMV Facts and Figures, $17,140,914 was collected in FY18 for driver abstract fees.” Examining that document shows that Wisconsin’s revenue for selling driver records has shot up dramatically since 2015, when the sale drew in $1.1 million. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles made $77 million in 2017 by selling data, a local outlet found.
Documents explicitly note that the purpose of selling this data is to bring in revenue.
“This is a revenue generating contract,” one document from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles obtained by Motherboard reads.
A spokesperson from the Wisconsin DMV wrote in an email that “Wisconsin DMV directly informs customers that their information may be sold.”
But the DMV saying it directly informs “customers” that their information my be sold is fairly disingenuous. You have to own a car to survive in the vast majority of Wisconsin. Citizens don’t really have a choice in where they get their driver’s licenses. There’s only one game in town: the state.
Motherboard notes that the root of the problem lies in the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), a law written in the 1990s in response to the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. The stalker who killed Schaeffer, however, got her address from a private investigator, and the law still allowed for PIs to access DMV records, so nothing was really done to protect another Schaeffer style murder from happening.
This is another huge problem with what is already an obviously problematic practice. From the story:
“The selling of personally identifying information to third parties is broadly a privacy issue for all and specifically a safety issue for survivors of abuse, including domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking,” Erica Olsen, director of Safety Net at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told Motherboard in an email. “For survivors, their safety may depend on their ability to keep this type of information private.”
And while some states have very strict rules for who can obtain a private investigator’s license, others don’t even require such a license at all.
So a law written before the rise of data not only as currency, but as our identities, is allowing potentially dangerous and powerful agents free reign over personal information. I know there’s a lot to worry about out there right now, but this whole story is frankly terrifying.
All the futures we could have had, and we went with the dystopian one.
Go read it all here.