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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.