PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Have you ever gotten strange mail from random insurance companies and wondered how they got your information?
More than likely, they got it from your local Department of Motor Vehicles.
Through the Drivers Privacy Protection Act, DMVs across the country are able to sell driver’s license data to multiple third parties.
Phil Mann, a senior lecturer at Old Dominion University, told 10 On Your Side that this is a part of a bigger privacy issue — as the digital world expands so does the demand for our personal data.
“It has some commercial value and also legitimate value to the state, to other human beings,” he said.
Information like one’s name, address, make and model of your car and more, are up for grabs.
A driver’s social security number or photo is not released.
But how much is too much to release?
“It’s always a question about how much personal data should we be releasing and made otherwise public or to certain users,” Mann said.
10 On Your Side reached out to the Virginia DMV. However, they said they were unable to secure an interview.
They sent a statement instead, saying in part:
“Virginia has some of the strictest laws in the nation concerning the release of customer information. In Virginia, driver, vehicle and personal information is considered privileged and may not be released without the requester meeting certain circumstances identified in the Code of Virginia.”Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Those requesters include insurance companies and private investigators, who must be licensed under Virginia law.
It’s also a possibility those third-party companies can turn around and resell the information they receieve.
However, Virginia DMV’s have certain safeguards against that, including restricting the resale of driver information unless the use is stated in the buyer agreement.
Their statement also reads:
“DMV requires the data recipients to enter into an agreement acknowledging the information they receive may only be used for the articulated statutory purpose and that the agreement will be terminated if misuse is discovered.”Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
From 2019 to 2023, the Virgina DMV sold driver information to 95 private invesitgators.
“That’s why something like an auditing function would be important to ensure that it’s being used properly,” Mann said.
That’s something the Virginia DMV already has.
A spokesperson explained that the revenue from selling information covers the cost of maintaining and keeping it safe.
That includes, but is not limited to, audits and the 40 staff members in their data management department.
But Matt Callahan with the America Civil Liberties Union said this is all still very troubling.
“People who have medical conditions or other identities that they are trying to keep secret, including victims of domestic violence, all suffer when their information is shared without the proper safeguards,” Callahan said. “So, in order to protect the privacy of the average Virginian, especially vulnerable Virginians, it’s important that this information stays secure.”
Mann said that, at the end of the day, this law is not something people can easily change, but rather something the public must educate themselves on.
“It’s just really important that the public or individuals understand the importance of trying to control that information,” Mann said, “perhaps trying to understand the lack of control we have over information once we provide it to these various entities.”
A Virginia DMV spokesperson said customers can’t opt out of this.
They explained these laws aren’t hidden from customers, as a notice about them is on the form used to get a drivers license.
Mann and Callahan said the first step to protect your information is to go to your legislators.