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California DMV makes $50M a year off selling drivers’ data: Report

Some buyers are private investigators hired to surveil spouses

A new report from Vice’s tech news bureau Motherboard says the California Department of Motor Vehicles is earning upwards of $50 million a year by selling drivers’ personal information to third parties.

The information includes names, addresses and car registration information. Motherboard said it used a public record acts request to obtain yearly revenues obtained from selling the data to commercial entities for the past six years. It showed that the state’s DMV brought in nearly $41.6 million in fiscal 2013-2014 and $51.6 million in the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30.

It’s not entirely clear who exactly is buying all this personal data of California drivers, Motherboard says. But the state’s DMV says insurance companies, automakers and prospective employers may be among the buyers.

The news comes on the heels of a larger investigation that found that DMVs across the country engage in the practice and sell personal data to the likes of the data broker LexisNexis, consumer credit reporting bureau Experian and many private investigators who advertise services trailing spouses suspected of cheating. That data can also include a person’s nine-digit ZIP code, date of birth, phone number and email address.

California has enacted a strict law meant to protect personal information from being misused, and the federal government in 1994 enacted the Driver's Privacy Protection Act to limit disclosures of personal information by state DMVs.

A spokesman for the California DMV says the sale of data benefits programs related to highway and public safety, “including availability of insurance, risk assessment, vehicle safety recalls, traffic studies, emissions research, background checks, and for pre- and existing employment purposes.”

Read the Motherboard story here.

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