ACLU Seeks Halt to Sale of Pictures and Personal Data on 14 Million Floridians

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
January 29, 1999 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Florida
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Friday, January 29, 1999

MIAMI–The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida announced today that it will ask Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature to repeal a 1997 state law that permits the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to sell photographs and personal information on nearly 14 million Florida citizens to private companies. The information comes from drivers licenses and state identification cards.

Under a 1997 law, the DMV has agreed to provide Image Data LLC (a Nashua, New Hampshire company) with data about Florida residents that includes photographic images, Social Security numbers, as well as data on sex, race, dates of birth and other information from drivers license files.

“Under our Constitution, state government has an affirmative obligation to protect the privacy rights of all Floridians,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “We are concerned that the Florida state legislature has literally sold the privacy rights of its citizens.”

The ACLU will ask the governor and legislature to add statutory provisions ensuring that the state not engage in the sale of drivers license information without the knowledge and consent of individual drivers. The ACLU will also seek legislation to require the state to incorporate an “opt-out” provision for drivers who do not want release of their personal information.

The state’s sale of personal information was authorized in a little-noticed amendment to a large transportation bill passed by the Legislature in 1997. The sponsor of that amendment, Rep. Tom Feeney of Oviedo, was reported this week as stating that he added the measure at the urging of a lobbyist for Image Data and had introduced the amendment without much consideration.

“We honestly wish that Rep. Feeney had given the same regard to the privacy rights of Florida citizens as he did to the special interests of a large out-of-state corporation,” said Larry Spalding, ACLU of Florida’s Legislative Staff Counsel in Tallahassee. Spalding called the 1997 legislation “a government blunder.”

Elected officials in Florida have attempted to justify the sale of private drivers’ license information by pointing to Image Data’s intended use of that information to help detect credit card and other consumer fraud. “There’s no question that identity theft and credit card fraud are serious problems,” said Howard Simon. “But many people may value their privacy even more, and the governor and legislature have an obligation to give people that choice.”

February 1, 1999

The Honorable Jeb Bush
Executive Office of the Governor
PL-01, The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

RE: Sale of Driver’s License Information

Dear Governor Bush:

As you are aware, a firestorm is raging across Florida as the result of reports about the recent activities of the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles. The source of residents’ anger and frustration is the Department’s sale to a private corporation of photographs and information mandated by the state as a condition of obtaining a driver’s license. Further, the sale of personal information on millions of Florida citizens is about to take place without their knowledge and consent.

Although the state collects a good deal of personal information from its citizens, that information by definition is private in nature. To turn around and sell this information is both exploitative and potentially unconstitutional. From individual residents to newspaper editorial boardrooms, the message is the same: the Legislature made a terrible mistake choosing to support commercial gain over a citizen’s right to privacy. Apparently, this was confirmed today by the entry of a temporary injunction against the State by a state court judge.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida has received an usually high volume of complaints about this practice. Floridians not only feel this practice is a personal violation of their right to privacy, but they also believe that the passage of yet another “stealth amendment” late in the Regular Session was an intentional act to avoid public debate on what clearly is an extremely controversial legislative enactment.

Before the law was changed last spring, only law enforcement had access to drivers license pictures. Few citizens knew that the law had been changed until two weeks ago when an article in The Washington Post was published. Now the entire state knows, and our citizens are more enraged — and justifiably so — than we have ever seen them.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the state forcing its citizens to provide pictures of themselves (as well as Social Security numbers, addresses, and other personal data such as information about race and gender) and then selling the data to commercial enterprises. Simply put, it is not appropriate for State government to sell personal information about Florida’s citizens.

One can present logical but differing legal arguments on whether the privacy provision in the Florida Constitution overrides Florida’s strong open records law. There should be no debate, however, on whether the Government should violate a citizen’s right to privacy to advance a private corporation’s commercial gain.

The Florida Legislature, with your leadership, has the opportunity during the forthcoming Regular Session to correct this unfortunate situation by repealing the law permitting the sale of photographs and other personal information. At the very least, the law needs to be amended to afford Florida citizens the opportunity to “opt out” of any program by which the State sells personal information about them to an out-of-state corporation. The ACLU urges you to encourage and support that endeavor.

Thank you for your consideration.


Howard Simon
Executive Director

Larry Helm Spalding
Legislative Staff Counsel

cc: The Honorable Toni Jennings
President, The Florida Senate
Suite 409, The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

The Honorable John Thrasher
Speaker, Florida House of Representatives
Suite 420, The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

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