How the DMV is Profiting Off Your Private Information

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A trip to the DMV is about as desirable as a visit to the dentist’s office. Long lines, slow service, and a perpetual bad mood lingering in the air every time you walk in. Unfortunately, it turns out the undesirable practices of the DMV extends into more intrusive territory. 

DMV’s around the country have been found to be taking drivers’ personal information and selling it to thousands of businesses for a profit, including private investigators who use the data for spying on people. Other purchasers of your private data include insurance companies, credit reporting agencies, and bounty hunters. 

An investigation conducted by Vice’s Motherboard shows that several states have profited to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. The worst part? This practice is perfectly legal thanks to something called the Data Privacy Protection Act. Completely contrary to its name, the DPPA allows DMVs to sell information to a wide range of businesses for monetary gain. 

The data sold includes names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses, vehicle, and other sensitive information. In a particularly disturbing case, Motherboard uncovered evidence of the data being sold to private investigators to be used in the surveillance of spouses. The data purchased has been shown to be sold on both an individual name basis, as well as bulk packages containing a large amount of data for a particular area. Some of this data is reportedly sold for as little as a penny. 

In Virginia alone, 109 different private investigator companies purchased data from the DMV. They are joined by hundreds of other employers, law firms, and banks including Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase. 

The practice has become a major revenue maker in some states. Wisconsisn pulled in $17 million in 2018, while Florida reeled in a whopping $77 million in 2017. DMVs in North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, and Florida have admitted to Motherboard that the practice of selling private data has been misused, citing several instances of companies being cut off from purchasing data after continual unspecified abuses. 

The practice has earned greater scrutiny thanks to Senator Ron Wyden, who works on issues regarding privacy and surveillance. In a statement to Motherboard, he said “News reports over the past year have repeatedly exposed the troubling abuse of Americans’ location data, by private investigators, bounty hunters, and shady individuals.” He added that elected representatives have an obligation to “close loopholes that are being used to spy on Americans.”

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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