Motor vehicle departments around the United States are taking drivers’ personal information and selling it to a range of businesses, including private investigators, generating millions of dollars in revenue, said a scathing new report.
According to Motherboard, which obtained hundreds of pages of documents from DMVs through public records requests, members of the public are likely not even aware that the data they’re obligated to provide is being sold — in some instances, private investigators specifically advertise they’ll surveil spouses to see if they’re cheating.
“You need to learn what they’ve been doing, when they’ve been doing it, who they’ve been doing it with and how long it has been going on. You need to see proof with your own eyes,” says the website of Integrity Investigations, one private investigator company that purchases data from DMVs.
The Virginia DMV has sold data to 109 private investigator firms, while the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has sold data to at least 16 private investigation firms, according to spreadsheets viewed by Motherboard. In addition, records obtained by the news outlet revealed that the Wisconsin DMV made more than $17 million selling drivers’ data.
Other companies, including consumer credit reporting agency Experian and research company LexisNexis, have also been beneficiaries of the DMV data, according to Motherboard.
Beyond basic privacy concerns, one expert said, there could be big implications for someone fleeing an abusive situation.
“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.
As Motherboard notes, the data being sold varies depending on the state, but it usually includes a person’s name and address; in some cases, it also includes their date of birth,ZIP code and phone number.
The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) of 1994, which was meant to restrict access to DMV data, has a range of exemptions — including for the sale of information to private investigators.
By Christopher Carbone