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Driver's License Privacy

Opinion Editorial
January 1, 1992

By Dave Kopel

Actress Rebecca Schaeffer, co-star of the television series “My Sister Sam,” had a lot of admirers. One admirer, a crazy gentlemen named Robert Bardo, decided he wanted to kill the actress.

Killer Bardo had no idea where the actress lived, but luckily for Bardo, the state government of California provided him with his victim’s address.
Bardo went to a private investigative agency, claimed that Ms. Schaeffer was a long-lost friend, and asked for help in tracking her down. The investigative agency went to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, paid a one dollar fee, and was told the address that Ms. Schaeffer had listed on her driver’s license.

Bardo  took a bus from Tuscon to Los Angeles and walked 12 miles to her house. He pressed her intercom button. It was broken, so Ms. Schaffer came down to see who it was.  Startled, Bardo left.  He came back in an hour and pressed her intercom button again. When she came down a second time to answer the door, he shot her dead.  This happened on July 18, 1989.
The teenage rock star Tiffany was harassed by another deviant fan who learned her address from the motor vehicle records.

Most states, including Colorado, make lots money from selling the private information in your driver’s license, auto registration, and voter registration files. Companies like Equifax buy the records, and then resell them to insurance and other companies. Some of the groups who buy facts about your private life from the state include political organizations to compile voter profiles, universities for research, the Selective Service to check compliance with draft registration, attorneys and prosecutors who want to check out defendants, witnesses, and jurors, and most of all, and companies that sell mailing lists to other companies. Plus the occasional criminal.

At the least, you end up receiving junk mail from conglomerates that know more about you than they have a right to. At the worst, your private facts can end up in the hands of someone who will use them against you.

The government makes you register to vote, register to get a driver’s license, and register to own a car. To lead a normal life, you must give the government these facts. And right now, there’s nothing to stop the State of Colorado from selling its information about you to all comers.

Senator Bonnie Allison (R-Edgewater) is sponsoring a bill to allow a person to keep their voter, driver’s license, and auto registration records confidential from everyone except law enforcement. Under the proposed SB 74, persons desiring privacy would pay a five dollar fee for each type of record protected.
Ideally, people shouldn’t have to pay to keep their private information private; but the state bureaucracies, which make so much money selling private information, refuse to bear the administrative expense of deleting people from its vending data base.

Senator Allison’s bill is a start at letting people keep themselves out of the Equifax database. The bill may even save a life one day, if it keeps some jealous ex-boyfriend from tracking down his former lover.

Regardless of whether the Allison bill passes, everyone can take a small step to preserve their privacy by not giving the bureaucracy information that isn’t required. Although many motor vehicle bureaus and voting registrars will ask you for your social security number, you don’t have to divulge it. And if you social security number isn’t in the driver’s license file, it will be just a little bit harder the privacy-invasion industry to build its database on you.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email) webmngr@i2i.org