The Department of Motor Vehicles in states all around the country are selling drivers’ personal information to thousands of businesses, including private investigators who spy on people for a profit, according to Vice’s Motherboard Page.
The motherboard obtained hundreds of pages of documentation from DMVs through public records requests that lay out the practice, which is very common. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Members of the public may not be aware that when they provide their name, address, and in some cases other personal information to the DMV for the purposes of getting a driver’s license or registering a vehicle, the DMV often turns around and offers that information for sale. The DMVs sell the data for an array of approved purposes, such as insurance or tow companies, but some of them have also sold to more nefarious businesses as well. In fact, multiple states have made tens of millions of dollars a year selling drivers’ data.
Businesses such as Consumer Credit agencies and private detectives are able to purchase the data even though some of the P.I.’s advertise services like providing surveillance of spouses suspected of cheating.
Motherboard does claim that multiple DMVs they spoke to stressed to them that the info they sell does not include driver’s photos or social security numbers.
The data sold varies from state to state, but it typically includes a citizen’s name and address. In other states, it can also include their nine-digit ZIP code, date of birth, phone number, and email address. Some of the data access is done in bulk, while other arrangements allow a company to look up specific individuals upon request, according to the documents. Contracts can go for months at a time, and records can cost as little as $0.01 each, the documents added.
“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.”
Due to the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), a law written in the ’90s before privacy became the cultural focus that it is today, the sale of this data to licensed private investigators is perfectly legal, but critics argue it’s time for the law to be changed. The process of becoming a licensed private investigator varies from state to state and can be strict. Some states, however, allow licensing to be granted on a local level or allows investigators to operate without a license, according to multiple sources close to the industry.