The DMV Is Selling Your Information

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The Department of Motor Vehicles has piles of data on pretty much everyone over sixteen years old in the U.S. including addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, and email addresses. Naturally, they are dedicated to keeping this data locked safely away from those who might wish harm upon patrons entrusting the DMV with their private information. Just kidding. They’re selling the shit out of that data for tens of millions of dollars to pretty much anyone who wants it, including private investigators who can very easily be hired by stalkers and human traffickers.

According to Vice’s Motherboard, these sales are perfectly legal due to something called the Data Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), a law that, contrary to its name, allows DMVs to sell information to a ton of businesses, including private investigators, who routinely buy the data in order to find ways to contact private citizens without their knowledge or consent:

“The Virginia DMV has sold data to 109 private investigator firms, according to a spreadsheet obtained by Motherboard. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has sold data to at least 16 private investigation firms, another spreadsheet shows. The Delaware DMV has data-sharing agreements with at least a dozen investigation firms, and Wisconsin has around two dozen current agreements with such firms, other documents show.”

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And many of the people whose information is up for sale might have very good reason to keep that information private:

“‘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 in an email. ‘For survivors, their safety may depend on their ability to keep this type of information private.’”

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The data is also sold to insurance companies, credit reporting agencies, and bounty hunters. In some states, like Texas, there are no laws preventing convicted felons from accessing DMV data.

So how much are DMVs making from these sales? A lot. In the last four years, the Rhode Island DVM has made $384,000 from the sale of personal data, while the state of Wisconsin made $17,140,914 in 2018 alone.

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In an email to Vice, a spokesperson from the Wisconsin DMV wrote that the “Wisconsin DMV directly informs customers that their information may be sold.” So if you don’t want your stalker to know where you live, maybe read the fine print and don’t drive or have a state ID.

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