<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by laragon:
Anyone know if there are any ways to run someones license plate number ( like maybe over the net ) other than having a police officer do it? The guy that i suspect my ex used to set me up was at her house when I picked my son up. Just wanting a full name and address on him for fuure reference. Thanks<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>
Wednesday, January 12, 2000
Driver license data gets privacy rights
States can't sell information, justices rule
BY DEBORAH KONG
Mercury News Staff Writer
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a federal law that prohibits states from selling people's driver's license information, a decision that could lead to broad, new privacy legislation at a time when the issue has become a primary concern for many consumers.
Consumer advocates said the ruling has obvious benefits for people concerned about the release of their name, address and other personal data. It upheld a law that restricts states from selling driver's license data, including unlisted telephone and Social Security numbers, to marketers without consumers' permission.
But the decision may have even broader implications for the ongoing debate over federal privacy legislation. By upholding the law, the Supreme Court affirmed Congress' authority to regulate the personal data market, privacy advocates said.
``On a quick read, you can't help but conclude that this will buttress support for congressional action in the privacy arena,'' said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.
``A potential obstacle has been removed, which is the states' rights argument,'' he said, adding that the decision comes at a time when ``privacy is quickly becoming the defining social issue of the 21st century.''
Online advertising companies, for example, are assembling millions of user profiles containing people's Web surfing patterns and purchases. They're not the only ones that have that kind of data: after December's online shopping rush, Web retailers' databases are bulging with purchase records and credit card numbers.
And this week's announcement that America Online will acquire media and entertainment giant Time Warner prompted some to point out that the new company will have access to vast amounts of consumer data gathered from sources such as AOL's 20 million members, HBO's 35 million subscribers and Time Warner's 120 million magazine readers.
Worry about misuses
Marketers want to use that information to deliver increasingly personalized advertising. But privacy advocates worry that the information could be misused or tied to identifying data like a name and address.
For its part, the online industry has asserted that it can regulate itself. Ron Plesser, a Washington, D.C., attorney and privacy expert who represents the online industry, said the Supreme Court decision wasn't about privacy, but instead about states' rights.
Plesser pointed to programs such as Cupertino-based TRUSTe, which certifies that Web sites meet its standards for handling consumers' personal data, as proof of the industry's success at regulating itself. On Wednesday, TRUSTe announced that it had approved its 1,000th Web site.
Sydney Rubin, a spokeswoman for the industry group Online Privacy Alliance, pointed out that there are very few instances of misuse of people's personal data.
Regulation ``burdens industry, it creates bureaucracy and it creates risk for individual companies,'' Plesser said.
But privacy advocates and some consumers think otherwise. A Forrester Research survey of 10,000 American households found that half of Internet users support privacy regulation.
Rowan Clark, who uses the Internet daily to research stocks and business partners, said he's worried about having his Web surfing patterns tied directly to him. The Seattle resident said he would support requiring companies to clearly alert people that the companies are collecting information about them.
``I'm to a great extent against government intervention in our day-to-day life,'' Clark said, ``but I do have a concern about privacy.''
The Supreme Court's decision Wednesday upheld the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994, which restricts states' ability to disclose and sell state motor vehicle department records without the driver's permission.
That information is submitted when people apply for a driver's license or register a vehicle and can include names, addresses, telephone and Social Security numbers, medical information and photographs.
States made millions
Many states have made millions of dollars each year selling this information to insurers, direct marketers and others who use it to advertise and telemarket to consumers. That practice concerned many privacy advocates, who say people have had no choice but to give states that information if they want a driver's license.
``It's the classic privacy violation, in that information is collected for one purpose . . . and that is to obtain the right to drive an automobile,'' said James Dempsey, senior staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. It ``ends up being disclosed and sold and used for a totally unrelated purpose.''
At issue was whether the privacy law violated states' sovereignty. In the 9-0 decision, the court found that the law is ``a proper exercise of Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce'' because the personal information is an element of interstate commerce.
Boxer wrote law
The impetus for the law, authored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., came after actress Rebecca Schaeffer was killed by an obsessive fan who traced her private home address through information obtained at the California DMV.
``It's very much a bill that I think resonates in California because of the (Schaeffer) incident, and also because you've got a lot of people with high privacy preferences,'' EPIC's Rotenberg said.
Californians are required to give their name, address, height, weight, photo, thumbprint and Social Security number in order to get a driver's license. Since 1990, the state has not sold driver's license information to marketers, said DMV spokesman Evan Nossoff. It does sell that information to certain groups, such as insurance companies, financial institutions and attorneys, who are authorized to use it only for certain purposes.
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