Minn. Lawmakers Debate Bill Aimed at Halting DPS Data Privacy Policy Change

Updated: 03/12/2014 10:42 PM KSTP.com By: Stephen Tellier

5 Eyewitness News was the first to report on a big policy change at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Critics say it could increase car insurance premiums and prevent some Minnesota drivers from getting safety recall notices.

On Wednesday, the issue landed before lawmakers, as they debated a bill that would stop the policy in its tracks.

The new policy is scheduled to take effect on May 12. DPS wants to change the way it allows access to driver's license and motor vehicle data -- to better protect your privacy. Right now, certain companies can buy that data in bulk, which is used to set car insurance premiums and send out recall notices. But DPS wants to instead charge $5 for each individual record request. That's about five times what many companies currently pay.

"If the department implements this without our input in the scheme in which they're proposing, there are going to be major issues in this state," said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville.

Holberg is pushing the bill, which would scrap the new DPS policy and call for a study of the issue.

At Wednesday's House committee hearing, a parade of industry groups told lawmakers the policy would hurt average Minnesotans.

"I think the decision to cut off this access is going to add undue delays and costs to this system," said Amber Backhaus, director of government affairs for the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.

"Individual lookups simply don't work for things like motor vehicle safety recalls, which often involve at least 100,000 vehicles," said Mark Anfinson, with the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

"I'm very disappointed that people have chosen to misrepresent our intentions and misrepresent the facts," said DPS Deputy Commissioner Mary Ellison.

Ellison then offered the department's most detailed explanation yet.

"We get calls continuously from citizens who say, 'How did XYZ company, who's soliciting me to buy a product, get my data?'" Ellison said.

Ellison said stopping the sale of bulk personal data will stop Minnesotans from getting some unwanted sales calls.

"We feel like this change is absolutely appropriate for the citizens of this state to protect their data," Ellison said.

Some lawmakers remain unconvinced.

"You need data to conduct commerce. You can't just sort of shut it down and hope for the best," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

No action was taken on the bill on Wednesday -- a vote will likely be held on Friday. The bill's authors include five DFL representatives and three Republicans

DPS says it has a data subscription service that will solve most of the problems industry groups have with the change. But insurance companies and auto dealers say the system is still short on specifics, and question whether DPS can handle the large number of data requests that will be coming the department's way.