I-Team: Florida government made $49M selling your information

Some companies buying data have been hacked before

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, LLC

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 with Westlaw, an online legal research website. Their contract with Florida states they provide information to government and private agencies trying to verify identities.

Acxiom Corporation

Acxiom provides marketing and information services. Their contract states they use Florida drivers' info for identity verification and fraud prevention. In 2003, a hacker stole 1.6 billion customer records from the company. We contacted Acxiom for a response, but they have not provided one as of our air date, Thursday, June 28, 2012.

Explore Information Services, LLC

Explore works for insurance companies to provide them with data. Their contract states they will share the data with insurance companies to check Florida drivers' driving history and to employers who wish to check driving history.

Linebarger, Goggan, Blair, & Sampson, LLP

Linebarger, Goggan, Blair, & Sampson is a law firm that specializes in debt collection. They tell us they work for several Florida Clerks of Court, including Hillsborough County, to assist in collecting from people who owe the government money. They previously worked for the IRS to assist with the collection of taxes. In 2007, the IRS did not renew its contract with the firm. A government report later that month would refer to the firm's debt collection tactics as "disturbing".

"We met IRS' expectations regarding collection results and received high marks for regulatory and procedural accuracy, timeliness and professionalism," said Linebarger Goggan spokesman Joe Householder.

"We do receive information from the State of Florida for the sole purpose of correctly identifying and locating those defendants and debtors who owe the government money. We use the information for no other purpose.  Our law firm has never had a data breach and maintains a NIST security certification," he added.

Lexis-Nexis Risk Solutions

LexisNexis is a website that provides a number of different services, but its contract with Florida's HSMV states they will provide drivers' information to businesses conducting vehicle recalls, car rental businesses, debt collectors, any business that wants to verify customer info for check or credit card payments, attorneys, insurance companies, towing companies, private investigators, private toll transportation businesses, and any business that needs to check driving history or verify a drivers' license.

In 2005, the company says LexisNexis customers' credentials were compromised and used to access information on consumers.

"Over the last several years LexisNexis has taken a number of steps to strengthen its privacy and security safeguards to improve the overall protection of consumers' information.  Some of the measures we put in place include the implementation of a standards-based security control framework that drives protections for our network, access, and monitoring of product use to detect and respond to potentially fraudulent activity," said a LexisNexis spokesman.

ShadowSoft, Inc.

ShadowSoft specializes in distributing public records. It operates a website, PublicData.com, in which various public records can be purchased. The website requires that you attest by checking a box online that you are accessing the data for a legitimate and lawful business purpose.

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