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Home > Privacy and Government > Government Threats to Privacy > Public Records > State DMV Records

State Department of Motor Vehicle Records

The U.S. federal government is not the only one keeping information about citizens in public records databases. States have large, comprehensive collections of personal information, too.

Congress enacted the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act in 1994 after the murder of actress Rebecca Shaeffer. Her assailant had gotten her address from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. While this law may have been an overreaction — responsibility for the crime lies squarely with her assailant — the Shaeffer case shows how personal information in public records databases can be misused.

Another example comes from Arizona, where the Motor Vehicle Department's "ServiceArizona" Web site allows Arizonans to register their cars online. In early 1998, the site also allowed visitors to view a list of logs for each day's online transactions. The list included name and address information, make and model of car, car value and license-plate number, and owner's credit-card number and expiration date.

Because responsibility for Rebecca Shaeffer's murder lies with her assailant, and because it is not known that information from Arizona motor vehicle records was ever used to harm someone, these cases only exemplify the threat to privacy in state public records. They also show how governments are in a position to abuse citizens' information. Because they can demand personal information in exchange for the privilege of driving, governments lack proper incentives to treat personal information as precious.


License to Steal by Liz Garone, Phoenix New Times (April 23, 1998)

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[updated 04/17/02]

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