ACLU Urges Congress to Strengthen Drivers' Privacy Protections

April 4, 2000 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Saying current law does not go far enough, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged a Congressional committee to strengthen the privacy protections for the personal data that states require individual’s submit when they apply for a driver’s license.

“While Congress moved in the right direction last year, the level of driver privacy is still inadequate,” ACLU Legislative Counsel Gregory T. Nojeim told the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. “Absent a strong signal from Congress — and enticed by the millions of dollars that the sale of personal information can generate — states will inevitably succumb to efforts of private entrepreneurs who continue to seek private data.”

The question of the privacy of information submitted to get a driver’s license exploded in the national media last year when a New Hampshire company sought to purchase photos and other personal information from approximately 22 million drivers in South Carolina, Colorado and Florida. After disclosure of the pending sales in the media, each state was hit with flood of citizen complaints that led the sales to be cancelled.

In his testimony, Nojeim noted that the states have not learned from those complaints and urged that the Committee act to ensure that the current law — the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act — be enforced. He noted that no state has been fined for failing to comply with the law and that at least in one state, Minnesota, the legislature is reported to be taking steps that would result in non-compliance with amendments adopted last year to the driver’s privacy act.

To protect the privacy of drivers’ personal information, the ACLU urged the Committee to take several concrete steps, including:

  • Repeal the federal mandate that requires states to demand that drivers provide their Social Security numbers.
  • Reduce federal highway funding to states that fail to comply with the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.
  • Ensure that the improvements adopted last year during the appropriations process to protect drivers’ photos, Social Security numbers and medical information be included in this year’s spending bills or, better still, that Congress permanently amend the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act to include those additional protections.

“The American public is increasingly wary of government and commercial attacks on our privacy,” Nojeim said. “Congress has acted admirably in the last year to protect the information we are required to submit to get a driver’s license. But it can — and must — do even more.”

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