The DMV Is Selling Your Personal Info to Private Investigators

And thousands of other businesses, too. Here's why it's legal.

Driver's license
The DMV in your state might sell your info to investigators or credit companies
iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Kirk Miller / September 9, 2019 11:09 am

Another reason to hate the DMV: It’s selling your data to private investigators, according to a new expose by Vice’s tech site Motherboard.

As the report notes, the Department of Motor Vehicles makes “tens of millions of dollars a year” selling drivers’ personal information to insurance and towing companies, credit reporters like Experian and also investigators, some of whom explicitly advertise that they will use the information to surveil spouses.

The cost to obtain such info? As little as $0.01 per record.

While several DMVs contacted denied the practice, public records and research by Motherboard (which obtained a printed list of agreements by private investigators with the Virginia DMV) prove that some states very willingly share personal data — which is actually legal, even under the restrictions of the 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). “Ironically, personal data [under the Act] is still available to licensed private investigators,” as the Electronic Privacy Information Center notes, and laws and permits for becoming a private investigator vary widely by state.

As Erica Olsen, director of Safety Net at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told Vice: “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.”

The data sold could include your name, address, zip code, date of birth, phone number and email address. Among the states which Motherboard identified as being complicit in sharing information: Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and Wisconsin.

Solution? As Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) suggests, it’ll take government action. “Congress should take a close look at the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, and, if necessary, close loopholes that are being abused to spy on Americans,” he tells Vice.

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