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CBS 11 Investigates: State Sells Personal Information & You Can’t Opt Out

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Mireya Villarreal
A native Texan, Mireya was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley....
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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - The State of Texas made millions of dollars selling your private information last year. We’re talking about your name, address, and even what kind of car you drive.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) claims protecting your information is a top priority for them. A federal law guides them on just who can buy your private information and how they use it. But we found out the Texas DMV might not be monitoring this as closely as they claim.

No matter what day it is or what time, the downtown Tax Collector’s office in Dallas is always busy. Most of the people who walk through the Dallas County Tax Collector’s office are registering their cars with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

But the state doesn’t just make money off you when you register your car; it’s also making money off your personal information. In 2012 they made $2.1 million to be exact.

Here’s how it works: The Tax Collector’s office in your county helps the state out by collecting your information and your money. Once you’re in the Texas DMV database your information can be sorted by where you live or what you drive; and it’s that information that’s up for grabs.

“The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles is the custodian of over 22 million currently registered vehicles in the state of Texas,” Randy Elliston, Director of the Texas DMV, explained. “All of those records that are in our database, however, are protected under the Driver Privacy Protection Act.”

Randy Elliston says the Driver Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) limits who can buy your information and what they can do with it. So, we wanted to know, just who is buying your information?

CBS 11’s I-Team Investigator Mireya Villarreal discovered nearly 2,500 agencies or businesses purchased the DMV’s data in some form last year. On this list there are towing companies, collection agencies, insurance companies, hospitals, banks, schools, city governments, and even private investigators. How much they pay depends on the kind of information or quantity they’re looking for.

“Some people might feel like the state is making money off of their private information. Is that the case here?” Mireya asked.

“Well, the state does charge for the information that we release,” Elliston answered. “But they are not permitted to use it for advertising or things of that nature to contact people.”

Christie Kim and her family moved to Dallas about two years ago and within a few months she went downtown to register her cars with the DMV. She says, almost instantly, she started receiving special offers.

“I would say that the main junk mail that we’ve been getting that has felt in excess of what we’d normally be getting and faster than we would normally get has been car related and insurance related,” Kim told us.

Christie’s frustration is with the junk mail, but her husband’s concern is protecting their private information.

“We’re giving you our information to register our car. We’re not giving you our information to sell it without asking us,” Kim said. “To me, the ethical thing would be [if] there’s an opt-in clause. And if you don’t opt in your information is not sold.”

Click here to download a spreadsheet that lists all the companies that purchased your personal information in 2012.

Courtesy: Texas DMV
Courtesy: Texas DMV

The Driver Privacy Protection Act is a federal law. And the fine print actually says businesses can use your information for marketing or solicitations if the state has obtained your consent. That means, some drivers can opt in or out of these databases.

Problem is – Texas didn’t adopt that portion of the law. So, drivers in the Lone Star State are stuck. But Elliston says if you feel like your information is being abused you can report the company.

“It has occurred in the past and when it has we’ve pulled the company’s ability to use that data,” Elliston noted.

Since 2000, only nine companies have been busted and banned for misusing the DMV data. And since 2010, there have only been three complaints from Texas residents. If you think your info is being misused, you can email your complaint to a Texas DMV representative at Diane.EmrickDodson@txdmv.gov. You can also mail in your complaint to Vehicle Titles and Registration Division, 4000 Jackson Avenue, Austin, TX 78731.

Their director also tells us the money made from selling your information goes into the state highway fund which is used for highway construction and maintenance.

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