Does the Wisconsin DMV sell your personal information?
June 3, 2020
I recently renewed my Wisconsin driver’s license. It was pretty routine, until I noticed a question asking if I wanted to opt out of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) sharing my information with third parties.
That was a shock. I knew I hadn’t ticked a box asking that question before. That would have stuck in my mind. Was the DMV really selling my information? The answer, apparently, is yes.
In 2015, CBS 58 Milwaukee reporter Sarah Barwacz, investigated reports that the Wisconsin DMV had been selling drivers’ information (“‘Opt Out,’ a CBS 58 Investigation finds the state is selling your information,” May 5, 2015, updated July 28, 2016). It reported that the state of Wisconsin garnered almost $11 million in 2014 by doing this.
Barwacz discovered then that personal information such as birth date, address, driving record, and other information is all “up for grabs,” ostensibly to help entities such as insurance companies check drivers’ records. However, since the program is not closely monitored, companies can pay for access to your license information, including tickets, DUIs, and suspensions.
CBS 58’s research uncovered that the state had sold DMV information to over 2,000 900-number companies. After more in-depth research, CBS 58 found that banks, attorneys, charities, and research companies had also purchased information. In fact, the Wisconsin DMV web site noted, “your information may be used for marketing purposes.”
Joseph Cox of VICE discovered similar sales going on in other states around the country (“DMVs Are Selling Your Data to Private Investigators,” Sept. 6, 2019). Through public records requests, Cox discovered that while some state DMV sales are approved (insurance or towing companies, for instance), some states sell personal data to private investigators, too.
While selling personal information to investigators may be legal, it can also prove dangerous. Investigators could provide an address, phone number, or email to a client who is in reality a stalker or domestic abuser. One investigator located in Wisconsin told VICE he purchases DMV records “to get driver license [sic] information on subjects I may be investigating.”
VICE discovered that DMVs often sell information to credit reporting companies and research companies, too.
At the time the article was released, the Wisconsin DMV had current agreements with over 3,100 entities. Cox reported that a Wisconsin DMV spokesperson emailed him that, in fiscal year 2018, the DMV had collected $17,140,914 for driver abstract fees.
After CBS 58’s interview with Ann Perry, director of driver services DMV, the Wisconsin DMV web site no longer contained the statement about data being used for marketing purposes.
So did that mean that the DMV had changed who purchased drivers’ information? In early 2020, Rhonda Foxx of Fox Valley/Brown County CBS affiliate WFRV discovered that WisDOT sold drivers’ information to insurance brokers, data services, hiring companies, and so-called “information services.” (“Wisconsin DOT earned millions by providing driver information to third parties,” Feb. 10, 2020.)
Foxx reported that under Wisconsin’s open records law, WisDOT is required to provide information to requesters. When asked, WisDOT indicated that the money collected in this way is put into a protected transportation fund and these funds are used only for transportation-related purposes. None of the funds go to the DMV’s operating budget.
You can opt out. When you renew your driving license, you can elect to opt out of mailing lists containing 10 or more individual names by ticking the opt out box, like I did. Or you can visit the Wisconsin DMV web site’s opt out page https://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/dmv/license-drvs/rcd-crsh-rpt/optout.aspx.