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A surefire state revenue generator? Selling your driving records

TALLAHASSEE — While sluggish sales tax receipts may have forced the state to slash government spending again this year, one source of revenue continues to pay out:

Your name, address and driving history.

The state of Florida made $73 million from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, by selling drivers license information to private companies, according to new information released by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The selling of personal information of Florida's 15.5 million licensed drivers has been on the books for decades, state officials say, and is common practice across the country. And if the state didn't sell it, Florida would have to give it away for free, because the information is a public record.

But the transaction has become the target of at least one group, who wants the process discontinued.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is urging Gov. Rick Scott to terminate the agency's contracts with vendors who receive driver information. In a letter Friday, executive director Howard Simon asked Scott to end the practice because Simon says it lacks oversight and violates Floridians' expectation of privacy.

"As governor, you should protect our personal information, not sell it," Simon said. "Just because the state can do something does not mean the state should do it."

Scott's office did not return a call seeking comment.

Who buys the information?

Auto manufacturers that need to tell customers about product recalls. Or insurance companies that ask for customers' driver records for underwriting purposes. Or towing companies that need to get in touch with the owners of abandoned or towed vehicles. And bus lines and school board leaders that want histories of drivers who operate their vehicles.

"The other option would be to provide it for free," said Courtney Heidelberg, the agency's spokeswoman. "It's a public record. We have to provide this information to the requestor."

Most of the profits come from selling electronic driver transcripts that contain records of citations and crashes. At $8 or $10 a record, the sales add up.

A small chunk also comes from selling "penny records," which are electronic files sold to data-mining firms like LexisNexis, ShadowSoft and Acxiom Information Security Services for 1 cent per record. Those records do not contain driver histories but do provide basic information like a driver's license number.

The agency does not release Social Security numbers or drivers' photographs, Heidelberg said. And it's against the law for businesses to use the information for marketing.

Law enforcement officers, child protection investigators, firefighters, judges, prosecutors and public defenders are among the public officials who can block their records from being sold.

The sales netted $73 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year, up $10 million from the year prior and more than double the agency's profits from preceding years.

The increase is largely the result of the Legislature raising the cost of obtaining driver transcripts, from $2 to $8 for three-year histories and $3 to $10 for complete histories.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Reach Katie Sanders at (850) 224-7263 or ksanders@sptimes.com.

A surefire state revenue generator? Selling your driving records 07/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 25, 2011 10:55pm]
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