TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles sells your private driver data to companies, which then turn around and re-sell the federally-protected information online for a few bucks, a FOX 13 Investigation has found.
The findings follow a FOX 13 Investigation that revealed the DHSMV sells driver records in bulk to 75 companies without thoroughly vetting the companies or knowing how the federally-protected data will actually be used.
The ease in which the private information can be purchased online poses dangers for all Floridians, says Dallas attorney Joseph Malley, who has filed several class action lawsuits against companies who buy state motor vehicle records.
“Within a few minutes,” he explained, someone with malicious intentions “could drive and come over to your house.”
That’s exactly what the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act was trying to prevent. The DPPA, part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was created well before states sold motor vehicle records to companies that could then re-sell them online. The law has several exemptions carved out for reasons such as insurance underwriting and toll booth operations.
Now, several websites offer the information online to anyone willing to check a box and swear under penalty of perjury that they can claim a federally-allowable reason to access your private records.
Some of the companies buying information from the state of Florida are featured as “authorized vendors” on the DHSMV’s own website.
One of those companies, for example, boasts of its "approved" status from the state of Florida. The company’s website says it can approve most business accounts within two hours. It also advertises that there is no additional charge for unlimited, additional users.
"Add all the employees who you feel, within their work capacity, are legally qualified to gain access and need to access the system and Florida DMV records," the website says.
Individuals can buy Floridians’ driver records, too. Buyers can claim they have an exemption to the federally-protected record by clicking on a drop-down menu. This website, which is intentionally not hyperlinked in this article, gives buyers the option to select from four “DPPA” reasons: "Requesting my own record," "Requesting a family member's record," "Requesting an employee's record," "Requesting for other business purpose."
None of those are actual exemptions found in the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act.
The company did not respond to an interview request, so it’s not clear what additional steps are taken - if any - to verify whether a customer can legitimately claim an exemption to the federal privacy law.
The DHSMV has not yet provided a response to questions about our findings. Neither a public information officer, nor executive director Terry Rhodes, answered questions about how the state monitors its “authorized vendors” and how the DHSMV determines whether a company should be featured on its website.
Malley says he’s spent the past few years warning various state DMVs about leaks of driver data from specific companies, based on his own investigations and the investigations of other state DMVs. He says he’s baffled at what he sees as a lack of response from the Florida DHSMV and Rhodes.
“I don't know whether it's the massive amounts of money that this DHSMV takes in,” he said.
FOX 13 Investigates found the state generated nearly $150 million in the past two years from sales of driver records.
“For some reason or another, they are not taking an active approach to screen the persons and entities accessing the records, for all Floridians,” Malley said.
One of his class action lawsuits involved Elizabeth Blank, a Florida woman who bought records from both the DHSMV and the Texas DMV on behalf of her company, which was headquartered at her parents’ home in Cape Coral. According to the lawsuit, the Texas DMV - which “seeds” some fake records into data sold to buyers in order to track leaks - cut off her company’s contract after her some of her seeded data came back to the DMV in the form of marketing mailers. Malley says Florida continued to sell data to Blank until the end of her contract.
Malley says he has never found evidence the DHSMV ever took steps to notify Floridians that their information may have been compromised through that contract, even after they learned of the Texas findings.
FOX 13 asked the DHSMV for a response to Malley’s allegations. Neither the DHSMV’s public information officers, nor Rhodes, answered those questions.