Congress enacted the Driverís Privacy Protection Act (18
U.S.C. 2721-2725) in 1994
after the murder of actress Rebecca Shaeffer. Her assailant had gotten her address
from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The Act generally prohibits states from disclosing personal information that their
drivers submit in order to obtain driverís licenses. "Personal information" under
the Act includes an individual's photograph, social security number, driver identification
number, name, address (but not 5-digit zip code), telephone number, and medical or
disability information. Information on vehicular accidents, driving
violations, and driver's status is not "personal information." States must disclose
personal information for certain purposes,
and may disclose it for a long list of fourteen other purposes.
In 2000, the Act was amended to create a new class of "highly restricted personal information."
This includes an individual's photograph or image, social security number, and medical or disability
information. This information may not be shared without the express consent of the person to whom
the information applies, except for four purposes stated in the Act.
The Drivers Privacy Protection Act takes the wrong tack in attempting to protect
the privacy of drivers' information. The root of the problem with drivers'
license records, and all public records, is collection
of large amounts of data by governments in the first place. Requiring records to be
kept secret treats a symptom of a larger disease.
Individuals do not have a practical option of refusing to share information when
they apply for a driver's license, so information collections should be strictly
minimized. Once such information is in a public record, the ability of the
individual to keep it private is eroded. Laws to keep that information secret
can be ignored by bureaucrats and reversed by future legislatures. Secret records
in government files are also inconsistent with our traditions of open government.
Two Models for Protecting Privacy and the DPPA (January 17, 2000)