A group of nearly a dozen lawmakers led by member of Congress Anna Eshoo wrote to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) on Wednesday looking for answers on how and why the organization sells the personal data of residents. The letter comes after Motherboard revealed last year that the DMV was making $50 million annually from selling drivers’ information.
The news highlights how selling personal data is not limited to private companies, but some government entities follow similar practices too.
“What information is being sold, to whom it is sold, and what guardrails are associated with the sale remain unclear,” the letter, signed by congress members including Ted Lieu, Barbara Lee, and Mike Thompson, as well as California Assembly members Kevin Mullin and Mark Stone, reads.
Specifically, the letter asks what types of organizations has the DMV disclosed drivers’ data to in the past three years. Motherboard has previously reported on how other DMVs around the country sold such information to private investigators, including those hired to spy on suspected cheating spouses. In an earlier email to Motherboard, the California DMV said data requesters may include insurance companies, vehicle manufacturers, and prospective employers.
The information sold in general by DMVs includes names, physical addresses, and car registration information. Multiple other DMVs previously confirmed they have cut-off access to some clients after they abused the data.
On Wednesday, the California DMV said in an emailed statement, “The DMV does not sell driver information for marketing purposes or to generate revenue outside of the cost of administering its requester program—which only provides certain driver and vehicle related information as statutorily required.”
“The DMV takes its obligation to protect personal information very seriously. Information is only released according to California law, and the DMV continues to review its release practices to ensure information is only released to authorized persons/entities and only for authorized purposes. For example, if a car manufacturer is required to send a recall notice to thousands of owners of a particular model of car, the DMV may provide the car manufacturer with information on California owners of this particular model through this program,” the statement added.
After Motherboard’s earlier investigation into the sale of DMV data to private investigators, senators criticized the practice. Bernie Sanders more specifically said that DMVs should not profit from selling such data.
“In today’s ever-increasing digital world, our private information is too often stolen, abused, used for profit or grossly mishandled,” the new letter from lawmakers reads. “It’s critical that the custodians of the personal information of Americans—from corporations to government agencies—be held to high standards of data protection in order to restore the right of privacy in our country.”