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Home > Privacy and Government > Privacy Law Governing the Government Sector > Sectoral Laws > The Driver's Privacy Protection Act


The Drivers Privacy Protection Act

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.


Links:

Two Models for Protecting Privacy and the DPPA (January 17, 2000)

Comments? comments@privacilla.org (Subject: DriversPrivacyAct)

[updated 04/17/02]



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