TAMPA - Few Florida citizens realize it, but your personal information is for sale. The State of Florida has been selling driver’s license information to businesses for years, and the courts have ruled there is nothing illegal about it.
I-Team investigator Michael George caught up with Tampa resident Larry Brindley when he was getting a copy of his driving record at the local Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (HSMV) office. He had already been waiting in line for two and a half hours.
When George asked him if he would be willing to show our cameras his personal information on his driver’s license, he said what most of us would say. “No," Brindley answered, "because it’s my personal information.”
What Larry may not realize is that his information is already out there, on several websites. Almost everything that’s on his driver’s license -- full name, date of birth, address, and driver’s license number -- is online. The state sells millions of Florida drivers’ personal information to companies like Texas-based ShadowSoft, Inc.
“This is an example of the government invading our rights to privacy,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Shelbi Day. The ACLU argues just because the practice is legal doesn’t make it right.
“I would assume that most Floridians have no idea that this is even occurring, and I think that most would be deeply disturbed,” Day added.
Through a records request, the I-Team obtained a contract between HSMV and ShadowSoft, Inc.
In the contract, ShadowSoft agrees it won’t sell the data for illegal purposes, such as marketing or advertising. ShadowSoft pays HSMV $.01 per record they requested. Last year, they paid the state approximately $53,000, amounting to more than 5 million records requested.
The company tells us they provide the data to businesses who want to verify their customers’ information. Examples they offered were a hospital trying to track down a patient whose address might have changed, or a business trying to reach a customer to notify them of a product recall.
On the ShadowSoft affiliated site PublicData.com, all you need to do is pay a fee and check a box stating that you are using the data for legal purposes. A ShadowSoft spokesman tells the I-Team anyone who lies about how they’re using the information could face criminal charges.
The deal with ShadowSoft isn’t unique. HSMV officials say they sell Florida driver’s license info to a total of 10 different companies: Acxiom Information Securities Service, Inc., Choice Point, E-Funds, Explore Information Services, LexisNexis, Line Barge, Goggan, Blair, & Simpson, Inc., SC Services, ShadowSoft, TLO LLC, and West Services Inc.
The department says they do not release photographs or social security numbers, and the data is only sold if the business intends to use them for a legal purpose. The data is not used for marketing or advertising.
Your personal information is worth a lot. In the last fiscal year, the HSMV trust fund, used to fund the agency’s operations, brought in $62,968,946 from the sale of drivers’ information.
“I have a problem with that," said driver Brindley. "It’s just another cash cow for somebody, and I think information is exploited to the max.”
HSMV runs the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Division of Driver’s Licenses, and the state’s Highway Patrol, protecting Florida’s highways.
No one from HSMV would answer our questions on camera, but they did respond to questions via e-mail. Spokesperson Courtney Heidelberg writes, “The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles takes its responsibility to protect motorists’ information very seriously, and we have safeguards in place to ensure our compliance with both Federal and State Driver Privacy Protection laws. Certain information remains subject to public disclosure to authorized individuals or entities per the Driver Privacy Protection Act.“
When asked how the info is used, they responded, “That is determined by the business that purchases the information.”
Larry Brindley says he can be careful about giving out his personal information. But there’s nothing he can do about it when it comes to his driver’s license.
“I think it should stop. I think there should be some sort of break, some sort of integrity in what goes on with personal information, because it’s been so exploited,” Brindley said.
A group of Florida citizens sued to shut down the state’s deal with ShadowSoft. This spring, a judge ruled that the sale of driver’s license information is legal and does not violate the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act. The lawyer who filed the lawsuit tells the I-Team right now, there are no plans to appeal.
What do you think? Is the state violating the privacy of citizens? Or is the sale of public data helping to provide badly needed funds?
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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