PRIVACY Putting the brakes on DMV data

Jul 01, 1998 9:30 PM  By

The legal tug-of-war over the selling of motor vehicle information continues, to the dismay of data compilers. An Illinois state appeals court ruled in May that Illinois Secretary of State George Ryan has the authority to restrict the selling of information from the records of 11.5 million Illinois motorists to catalogs and other companies that use the information for mailing purposes. Although states such as California and Pennsylvania currently don’t make motor vehicle information available, Illinois-the sixth-most populous state-would be the third-largest to prohibit the selling of information.

The verdict overturned an earlier decision in favor of plaintiff R.L. Polk, which filed the suit in January 1997. The judge in that case ruled that Ryan had no authority to stop the selling of the information. (At that time, Ryan, the Republican candidate for Illinois governor, canceled contracts with five companies that were buying the state’s motor vehicle information, among them Southfield, MI-based Polk.)

In a statement, Ryan said the ruling was “a victory for the protection of privacy…I will move as swiftly as possible to put this ruling into effect and get my office out of the business of selling information about Illinois residents to telemarketing and junk mail companies.”

In March, the Illinois House of Representatives, by a vote of 113-1, passed House Bill 3610, titled the Illinois Privacy Protection Act, which bans all state agencies from selling any information on the state’s motorists to other companies. The privacy bill, which Ryan fully endorses, has not yet been scheduled for a state senate vote.

Polk to battle back R.L. Polk plans to appeal this latest ruling. “We feel that motorists should have the choice of deciding whether to opt-out, as opposed to the government deciding for them,” says Polk spokesman James D. Miller.

In January, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) was enacted, prohibiting states from making available personal information contained in motor vehicle records for direct marketing purposes, unless the state DMVs first provide an opportunity for registered motorists to opt-out. (See “List Watch,” April 15.) Congress passed the DPPA in 1994 but gave the states three years, or until September 1997, to comply with the federal mandate.