Things That Matter

New Documents Show The California’s DMV Is Making A Profit From Selling Drivers’ Information

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is making a $50 million profit off selling California drivers’ personal information to private companies, according to a document obtained by VICE. After VICE‘s recent investigation revealed that DMVs were profiting off the sale of personal data, the outlet submitted a public record acts request to understand how the state of California has profited from the sale of drivers’ personal information. Since 2013, the California DMV has progressively made more and more money, averaging out at around $50 million by fiscal year 2017/18. 

The DMV has told VICE that the sale of the data is in the interest of public safety. 

The DMV has been allowed to sell drivers’ information since 1994.

CREDIT: @FORMATIONFORCE / TWITTER

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) was passed in 1994, meant to protect driver’s privacy after a stalker obtained the address of actress Rebecca Schaeffer from the DMV and later killed her. While the law did restrict access to drivers’ information at the time, the loopholes that were written over two decades ago have allowed for a $50 million revenue for California alone. While we don’t know the exact names of the businesses that California’s DMV sold information to, we can presume its similar to other states, which primarily sell to insurance companies and private investigators. VICE’s investigation signals that consumer credit report company Experian and research company LexisNexis are major clients of DMVs across the country. LexisNexis, for example, advertises itself as a “provider of legal, government, business and high-tech information sources.”

Marty Greenstein, a public information officer of the California DMV, told VICE that, “The DMV takes its obligation to protect personal information very seriously. Information is only released pursuant to legislative direction, and the DMV continues to review its release practices to ensure information is only released to authorized persons/entities and only for authorized purposes. The DMV also audits requesters to ensure proper audit logs are maintained and that employees are trained in the protection of DMV information and anyone having access to this information sign a security document.”

Senators and privacy experts think the laws should change.

CREDIT: @_4VTO_ / TWITTER

“The DMV should not use its trove of personal information as a tool to make money. While the internet has been an enormous source for good, all that convenience and connection has come with a price: our privacy has been invaded in an unprecedented way, in a manner that would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told VICE.

Some people are wondering how the DMV is making only $50 million a year off of our data.

CREDIT: @KATZZ77 / TWITTER

“My hot take on the DMV selling their data-” tweeted Sriram Krishnan (@sriramk), “I would be ok with them selling more data and making more $$ if it meant better services every time I make an appointment or deal with their website.” Others are tweeting at California’s Governor Newsom, imploring that the use of the tax-funded DMV as a data mine ceases. “Dear @GavinNewsom This is a significant #privacy issue. Please remind DMV that our info is not for sale, and CAN-SPAM laws (nevermind the California PII laws) say we should be able to opt-out of the use of our data,” tweeted Michael Skaff (@mskaff).

The way the DMV uses our data can compromise the safety of undocumented people, and it’s already happening in Nebraska.

CREDIT: @VAMP_KRIS2102 / TWITTER

NPR obtained a copy of the agreement that Nebraska’s DMV signed with the U.S. Census Bureau, making it the first state to cooperate with Trump’s mission to gain citizenship data about every person living in the United States. Trump may have gotten his wish to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census had it not been for a Supreme Court decision in June that effectively made such a question illegal. Now, Trump’s administration continues to push its anti-immigration agenda by using the DMV to obtain addresses and citizenship status for undocumented people with driver’s licenses. 

Trump signed an executive order that would task the Census Bureau by compiling state data to provide citizenship information about each state resident. In August, the Bureau called on each state to sign over its DMV data on its residents. Nebraska is the first state to comply. Nebraska’s DMV will begin handing over data to the U.S. Census Bureau each month, including ID and driver’s license holders citizenship status, as well as their addresses, sex, race, eye color and date of birth.

READ: Trump Administration Is Attempting To Violate State Laws By Requesting Driver’s License Information

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There’s A Mobile Día De Muertos Ofrenda Traveling Around Southern California To Commemorate Victims Of Covid-19

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There’s A Mobile Día De Muertos Ofrenda Traveling Around Southern California To Commemorate Victims Of Covid-19

Jan Sochor / Getty Images

Every year around this time, many Latino families setup their ofrendas and set out pictures and objects belonging to their lost loved ones – in celebration of Día de Muertos.

However, this year’s celebrations are looking very different thanks to the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Not only have many families recently lost loved ones to the virus, they’re also struggling with ways to pay for the often extravagant celebrations as so many are left without work and income. Others are too afraid to gather with their families for fear that they may spread the virus to others. Meanwhile, in some cities, cemeteries (where many of the celebrations take place) have been closed to the public to avoid further contagion risk.

So, to help bridge that divide some communities are finding new and creative ways to help celebrate their lost loved ones amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

A mobile ofrenda will visit some of LA’s neighborhoods most affected by the pandemic.

Día de Muertos takes on a special meaning this year as a deadly pandemic continues to disproportionately affect Latino communities. And although traditional celebrations and events have been canceled, Latino Health Access (a nonprofit that advocates for the health of the local Latino community) plans to bring the celebration to the homes of those most impacted by the virus in Orange County to honor the deceased.

“Many of the events have been canceled, but we still want to honor those people who have passed away this year because of COVID,” Karen Sarabia, program associate for the Latino Health Access COVID-19 response team, told the LA Times.

The group along with a few local artists are converting a 28-foot flatbed truck into the altar, much like a float in the Rose Parade. Residents will be able to take photos with the altar. They can also provide offerings or write down the names of their loved ones and place them on the altar to honor the deceased. 

Ofrendas like this one are a central part of Día de Muertos celebrations.

Credit: Jan Sochor / Getty Images

Giovanni Vazquez, a local artist from Anaheim helping to construct the altar, spoke to the LA Times about the significance of the Day of the Dead. 

“I think it’s important because … this is how we remember all the dead and how we also celebrate the living,” Vazquez said, “This is how we remember that we’re going to go too. No matter which pandemic, no matter what cause, we are also going to die too.”

He continued: “We would like to share the art and try to make people think that death is also colorful and something we can celebrate … Just being thankful that we met the people in our life, even though they have passed, we remember them.”

According to the group, the ofrenda will have the basic components of classical altars in Mexico, where the tradition of Día de Muertos originated. There will be candles, thousands of paper flowers, sugar skulls and many offerings. 

There will be a prominent large skull and several smaller skulls with butterfly wings. Vazquez said those represent “the sacred migration of the living.” Monarch butterflies, which migrate to Mexico in November, are important symbols of Day of the Dead. 

The ofrenda and campaign is more important than ever as Latinos and other minority communities continue to suffer the worst effects of the pandemic.

Latino Health Access is organizing the event as part of the Latino Health Equity Initiative. Orange County launched the program in June in partnership with Latino Health Access after data revealed that the Latino community, particularly in Anaheim and Santa Ana, has taken the brunt of the pandemic in Orange County. 

The Los Angeles Times reported in late September that while Latinos make up 39% of the state’s population, they account for 61% of the state’s cases and 49% of COVID-19 deaths.

Anaheim is 56% Latino and Santa Ana is 77%. The cities account for about 36% of the county’s COVID-19 cases. 

Through the initiative, Latino Health Access is offering testing, outreach, education and referral services. 

California is not alone as cities from El Paso to Chicago create their own Día de Muertos celebrations to commemorate Covid-19 victims.

Credit: Alfonso Castillo Orta / Mexican National Art Museum

At the Mexican National Art Museum in Chicago, the museum has launched it’s exhibit memorializing Latinos who have died of the virus. “Sólo un Poco Aquí: Day of the Dead” honors people who have died from COVID-19 in Chicago and globally, said Antonio Parazan, director of education at the museum.

The exhibit is “paying tribute and remembering … the numerous individuals from our community … during this terrible pandemic,” he said. 

“We’ve had some of the highest number of infections … and a high number of deaths, as well,” Parazan said, noting Latino neighborhoods in Chicago have been among the hardest hit by coronavirus.

Even in Mexico – which has been one of the world’s hardest hit countries – officials are thinking of ways to merge traditional Día de Muertos celebrations with remembrances of Covid-19 victims.

In the town of Xalapa, families are taking photos with a giant Catrina, which is one fo the most iconic symbols of the holiday. And in Mexico City, the cities annual parade is going digital and will feature a special commemoration for Covid-19 victims.

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Uber Says It May Shutdown In California As It Fights Against Gig Worker Law

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Uber Says It May Shutdown In California As It Fights Against Gig Worker Law

Mark Ralston / Getty Images

Is it possible that you won’t be able to get an Uber or Lyft in California? Well, it’s actually very likely that your apps won’t work much longer. The two companies are threatening to go dark in the Golden State as the two fight back against AB5 – a state law that offers protections to gig economy workers.

Uber says that they’ll need to rethink their entire business model if forced to follow AB5, hence the likely shutdown. But many find it suspicious that the company will be shutting down through the November election, when voters will be asked to vote on Prop 22, a ballot measure that would exempt Lyft and Uber from the new regulations.

An Uber shutdown is looking more likely in California as the company plans its response to new state laws.

All the drama started when California (among some other states) started enacting ‘gig worker’ protection laws that were meant to force companies like Uber to reclassify drivers as employees. Currently, drivers are classified as ‘independent contractors’ and are not eligible to receive any benefits, such as healthcare, retirement plans, and overtime.

Uber moved to limit the impact of that law while also admitting that change was needed to better protect their drivers. Not too long after Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi published an op-ed in The New York Times with the headline “Gig Workers Deserve Better,” a San Francisco judge ruled that Uber and Lyft had to reclassify their drivers as employees within 10 days.

In his ruling, Schulman wrote of Uber and Lyft, “It is high time that they face up to their responsibilities to their workers and to the public.” He rejected the argument that Uber and Lyft are simply technology companies, asserting “drivers are central, not tangential, to Uber and Lyft’s entire ride-hailing business.”

Two days later, Khosrowshahi responded with an ultimatum: If Uber had to abide by California labor law, it would require a business model change so extreme the entire company would have to pull out of the state until November. Which is convenient, since California has an initiative in the November election that would overturn much of the state’s gig economy law.

The shutdown would be used to fight back against a recent gig economy law that Uber says would eat away at profits.

Over the last five years, several states have enacted legislation against Uber and Lyft’s operating methods. The companies have come to rely on a tried and tested playbook: threaten to suspend service in the area. The threat, which the companies would sometimes follow through on, appeared designed to rile up customers and drivers, and put more pressure on lawmakers. And it often worked: look at Austin, TX.

Now, both Uber and Lyft say they are once again considering suspending service to get what they want. They say they may suspend their operations in California as soon as this week while simultaneously pushing for a referendum in November to exempt them from the law, known as AB-5.

Although the pandemic has reduced demand, a shutdown would largely impact Black and Brown communities.

Credit: Mark Ralston / Getty Images

Although the companies are planning on going dark in the next week or so, many industry experts don’t think the shutdown will have the impact they hope for. The pandemic has greatly reduced demand for ride sharing as people are staying at home and many more are working from home.

However, much like the pandemic itself, the shutdown would likely have an outsized impact on Black and Latino communities – two groups who have largely come to reply on the companies for commuting to and from work or school. Several studies have shown that Black and Brown workers make up the majority of ‘essential workers’ – so many don’t enjoy the privilege of working from home.

An Uber or Lyft shutdown would force many of these workers back on to buses and trains, further putting already impacted communities under increased risk for contagion of the virus.

The companies are betting on a November ballot initiative to help bail them out from new regulations.

Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images

Although a judge has tried to force the companies to follow the law – the legal system may not have the last word. Uber and Lyft are counting on California’s voters to help them circumvent AB5, which went into effect in January and makes it more difficult for companies to use independent contractors. Uber and Lyft built their respective businesses on the concept of using freelance drivers who aren’t eligible for traditional benefits like health insurance and paid leave. 

Earlier this year, the companies, along with DoorDash, raised nearly $100 million to place a question on the November ballot. They succeeded, and this fall, voters will be asked to permanently classify ride-hailing drivers as independent contractors. The measure, called Proposition 22, also directs the companies to adopt certain labor and wage policies that fall short of traditional employment.

To help build support, the companies are turning to their customers. Lyft has taken a very active approach with urging its customers to vote yes on Prop 22 – they’ve emailed them and added pro-Prop 22 messages to the app. Meanwhile, Uber is considering similar tactics to ones the company used in 2015 in New York, when the company added a pop-up feature in its app to troll the mayor of New York City and encourage the company’s customers to pressure him to back off on proposed legislation that could seriously hamper Uber’s growth efforts in the city. It worked, and Mayor Bill de Blasio relented.

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