TAMPA - The State of Florida makes millions selling the personal information of Florida drivers. I-Team reporter Michael George first exposed the practice in an investigation last year.
Now, the I-Team has uncovered new details about just who is buying your info and what they’re doing with it.
Some of the companies purchasing data from the state have had issues in the past with keeping information safe.
If you have a Florida’s driver license, there are already several businesses that have some of your personal information.
In the last year, the state made $49 million dollars selling the info of Florida drivers to seven different data collection companies: Acxiom, Explore Information Services, Lexis-Nexis, Linebarger, Goggan, Blair, & Sampson, ShadowSoft, TLO, and West Services (more commonly known as WestLaw).
The companies can purchase Florida drivers’ names, driver’s license numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and their driving record over the past seven years, which includes tickets and crashes.
Tampa resident Sonia Alley, speaking while waiting to get her license renewed at an HSMV office, said she wasn’t aware that her information was being sold.
“I don’t like it. I really don’t. We’re thinking these people are keeping everything private, and they’re selling it and making money? That’s not right,” Alley said.
And some of the companies have had incidents where their data has been compromised or other practices have come in to questions.
Acxiom had the data of 1.6 billion people stolen by a hacker in 2003.
Lexis-Nexis’ data was illegally accessed in 2005.
The IRS stopped working with debt collection firm Linebarger, Goggan, Blair, & Sampson in 2007. The IRS would not discuss why they did not renew the company’s contract, but in the same month, a government report called their debt collection tactics “disturbing”.
The I-Team asked the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles if the businesses they sell to put Florida drivers at risk.
In a written statement, agency spokesperson Kirsten Olsen-Doolan said, “DHSMV does not “sell” the information. Florida has a very broad public records law ... absent a specific exemption, all public records are open to the public for inspection and copying.”
She added, “All these companies have multi-national clients, and their business rests on the security of their systems. We are not aware of any large-scale security issues at this time.” The money earned through the sale of information goes to the DHSMV general expense fund, which pays for the services the agency provides.
A federal law known as the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act states that the data can only be sold for legitimate business reasons. So the data cannot be sold to put people on marketing lists or solicit customers, but it can be used by a debt collection or insurance company trying to track someone down.
It can be used by an employer who wants to check the background of a new hire. It can even be used by a car manufacturer who wants to find customers to notify them of a recall.
HSMV says anyone who lies about the reason they are accessing the information could face criminal charges.
The I-Team found it’s actually very easy for anyone to get access to Florida drivers’ info. Investigator Michael George went to PublicData.com, a website operated by ShadowSoft.
After paying a fee of $10.77, all he had to do was click a box stating he was using the information for a legitimate purpose. In just seconds, he had access to a search of Florida drivers’ information.
Looking up his own name, he found his current and previous driver’s license number, full name, date of birth, address, and even his status as an organ donor.
Every Florida driver is included in the database, and the information is regularly updated to include new drivers.
“The concern is that anybody could be misleading or say they’re going to use it for a particular reason, and then go ahead and use it for an improper reason,” said Vince LoBue, an attorney for Yesner & Boss who handles identity theft cases.
A Miami attorney filed a class action suit to challenge HSMV’s sale of information. A judge ruled against him, saying the law makes it clear the sale is legal. LoBue says any change to that would have to come through legislation.
“We also have to ask ourselves at the state level, are we ok with the practice? There’s what’s legally allowed, and there’s what we as the voters will be ok with,” LoBue said.
Public info databases do have plenty of legitimate uses, and journalists use them as well. But we want you to be informed about who has your information and what they’re using it for.
Companies who buy your info from Florida’s HSMV:
TLO is a company that provides data services for fraud prevention, debt collectors, etc. According to their contract with the state, they provide information to government agencies, law enforcement, attorneys, insurance companies, and private investigators.
West Services, Inc.
West Services is affiliated