Members of Congress Demand Answers About California DMV $50M Personal Data Sale

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Rocklin, CA -- A California DMV sign in front of the Department of Motor Vehicles building in Rocklin

Manny Otiko | California Black Media

When news broke about Facebook collaborating with data mining companies during the runup to the 2016 presidential election, it may have broken the damn. Now almost four years later, more citizens are raising concerns about their data and who’s sharing it.

Several members of California’s delegation to the United States Congress, including Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-13), who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, are demanding information from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). They say the DMV has been selling California drivers’ personal data.  

According to Motherboard, a tech publication that’s part of the Vice network, the DMV generates about $50 million a year from selling drivers’ data.

“We’re troubled by press reports about the California DMV’s disclosure of vast quantities of data which could enable invasive biometric policing and be a symptom of a deeper privacy malady. The California DMV receives more than $50 million annually from selling the personal information of Californians, according to press reports. The individuals whose data are being sold are reportedly not informed of this practice or given the opportunity to opt-out. What information is being sold, to whom it is sold, and what guardrails are associated with the sale remain unclear,” said the letter addressed to Steve Gordon, Director, California Department of Motor Vehicles. Eleven U.S. Representatives from California singed the letter. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) and Hon. David S. Kim, Secretary, California State Transportation Agency.

The letter also addressed concerns about data possibly being shared with federal agencies such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI. Since California allows undocumented immigrants to gain driver’s licenses, their personal data may be used by ICE to track and deport people in the country illegally.

“What types of organizations has the DMV disclosed drivers’ data to in the past three years? In particular, has the DMV sold or otherwise disclosed data to debt collection agencies, private investigators, data brokers, or law enforcement agencies?” the letter inquired.

According to a statement responding to the letter, the DMV says the money generated from the data sale helps offset some of the agency’s operating costs.

The practice is not only confined to California. Both Virginia and Wisconsin DMVs also sell driver personal data. The practice is sanctioned under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), which was passed in the 1990s.

“In this day and age, unfortunately, government entities don’t resist the lure of selling Americans’ personal information for private exploitation. This problem will only get worse as cities, trying to be ‘smart,’ collect more information about what we do and where we go,” said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an e-mail to Motherboard.

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