The DMV: Information Brokers

It is no news that large corporations data-mine consumer information to sell at a profit. What is abhorrently shocking is that our DMV has been doing it for years. In 34 states the DMV has been selling driver information to third parties, sometimes for as little as one cent. In 2019 alone there are projected to be over two hundred million licensed drivers in the United States, even at one cent per driver than can add up to millions in profits for the State. 

New Jersey alone has made $600 million in the past 15 years. Wisconsin profited to the tune of $17 million in 2018 alone. The DMV claims that any profits made from these sales goes towards paying for the roadways and bridges. They also claim that no driver’s license pictures or social security numbers have been sold. Although your name, address, telephone number, and motor vehicle information can be sold at length. 

Luckily there are current consumer protection laws that help to limit what and who our information is sold to. In 1994 the DPAA (Driver Privacy Protection Act) was drafted into law. It outlines the way in which a DMV can sell information. It does prohibit individuals from simply walking into a DMV and walking out with any information they request. 

 The DMV is allowed to sell information to “automotive-related manufacturers, dealers, and business if the division has implemented methods and procedures to ensure that individuals are provided an opportunity, in a clear and concise manner, to prohibit such uses”. This allows the automotive industry to bolster advertising and marketing strengths. In turn, the corporation can keep more of our data close while propagating the materialistic mindset that is dominating America today. It is much easier to sell their products when they have the ultimate access to motor vehicle records. They can easily see when someone is out of vehicle warranty and make every attempt to sell them a new vehicle or added warranty coverage. It is a never-ending cycle that perpetually convinces consumers to keep themselves in debt. If progressive America ever hopes to change the system then practices like this need to be strictly prohibited to keep the corporations from preying on consumers.  

 Additionally, our DMV is permitted to sell data to insurance and credit companies. What is more concerning is how much business is done with private investigation firms. Hundreds of firms across the country have bought driver information. This raises a question about the safety of individuals in abusive relationships. It is no secret that estranged spouses have their significant others investigated frequently. How can someone escape an abusive relationship when a P.I firm can simply buy his/ her information to find them? 

In a handful of states, it is extremely simple to obtain a P.I. license. Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming do not require a license to become a P.I.  Wisconsin only has an online exam and a $75.00 application fee. What’s worse is a P.I. can travel from state to state if their work takes them there. While this is a very small number of states it is troubling that someone can have access to a plethora of our information this easily. 

The issue at hand is that the DMV can not ensure that our information is secure once it has been sold. A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesperson named Rich Kirkpatrick claims that the PA DMV relies on consumers to come forward to report any abuses of their personal information. So the DMV does a poor job of disclosing the fact that they will be selling information, then expect the consumer to report it. This seems like an extremely backward practice considering most people are not aware that their information is being brokered off. 

The government should not be in the business of selling information. It should be a citizen-centric organization that prioritizes the safety of its people and their information. The DPAA was formed only after several people were murdered because of how easy it was to access their data. The state concerns itself more so with profit over people. We can not trust a government that sees no issue with selling our name, address, phone, and vehicle information to the highest bidder. 

Our power is with our numbers. A large percentage of Americans can agree that selling our private information is wrong. We must take our grievances to our representatives and demand the DPAA is amended and make it illegal to sell any and all information to private parties. Or at least give citizens the right to decline this “service”. In order to operate a vehicle legally, we are forced to give away our information. This can not continue to be the norm. 

What you can do: Contact your state representative via our Resources page.


Patrick O’Connor

current events

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