DPS Responds to Concerns Over New Driver's License, Car Data Privacy Policy

Updated: 02/07/2014 7:40 AM KSTP.com By: Stephen Tellier

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was the first to report on a big upcoming change at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. It's supposed to better protect your privacy, but it could increase the cost of your car insurance and prevent some Minnesotans from getting safety recall notices.

On Thursday, KSTP asked DPS why they're making the change -- and what they're doing to make sure it doesn't negatively impact you.

DPS officials say they're simply trying to make sure your personal information is kept private and fully protected. But opponents say the way they're achieving that goal is abrupt, unnecessary, and -- potentially -- costly for all of us.

Driver's license and motor vehicle data -- it's your personal information, and it's held by the State of Minnesota.

"We really can't conduct our business without this knowledge," said Scott Lambert, executive vice president of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.

Right now, insurance companies buy that data in bulk, and use it to give quotes and set premiums. Auto dealers also use it to ensure safety recall notices get to the drivers who need them.

"There's no other way we would ever know that," Lambert said.

But the state recently announced it will no longer release that data in bulk. Instead, it will charge $5 per record request -- about five times what many vendors currently pay.

"What I would like to know is, what's precipitated this? I think they're trying to fix something that isn't broken," Lambert said.

"In this day and age of company data breaches and public concern about data security, we need to do everything we possibly can to make sure that private data is kept private," said Bruce Gordon, director of communications for DPS.

Gordon said the state will still provide that data to authorized users.

"It's just how that data will be accessed," Gordon said.

That access will happen through a secure, state-run website Gordon said already works.

"It's been operational for 10 years. It's been used by many companies. In fact, 20 or 25 insurance companies are using it already without any trouble," Gordon said.

When asked about the concerns about higher car insurance premiums and safety recalls, Gordon said, "I don't know how the industry will price their products, but I can tell you this: we need to do everything we can to protect private data," Gordon said.

"They'll only access the data that they need, and they won't have all of the data," Gordon said.

Despite the lack of evidence that bulk data has been misused in the past, Gordon said the policy change is necessary because it will allow DPS to audit that data and determine who had access to what, and when.

The policy takes effect next month. Opponents want a delay.

"They're taking a very efficient system and making it very inefficient for a problem that I didn't hear about," Lambert said.

We also asked DPS how much extra revenue the new policy may bring in. Gordon said the department hasn't done any estimates on that, and that privacy is the point -- not dollars.

The policy was supposed to take effect on Tuesday, but was already pushed back to March 10.

Opponents met with Gov. Mark Dayton's office on this issue last week, and that office is looking into the issue.