Bill Halting Controversial DPS Privacy Policy Dies in Senate

Updated: 03/31/2014 7:46 AM By: Stephen Tellier

The path appears clear for a big data privacy policy change at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Critics claim it will increase car insurance premiums and prevent some drivers from getting safety recall notices. But the bill aimed at stopping the change was just stopped in its tracks.

The bill effectively died in a Senate committee on Friday. That means the controversial policy will likely take effect as scheduled May 12.

But there are still questions about how the change could impact average Minnesotans -- and about how much money the state stands to pocket as a result.

The Insurance Federation of Minnesota, the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association and data vendors like Thomson Reuters -- all have been fighting the new DPS policy.

"We're very concerned about the cost and the availability of the data," said Mark Kulda with the Insurance Federation of Minnesota.

DPS is changing the way it allows access to driver's license and motor vehicle data, which is used to set car insurance premiums and send out recall notices. Right now, some companies buy that data in bulk. But the Department wants to instead charge $5 for each individual record request --that's five times what many companies currently pay.

DPS has repeatedly said the change is designed to better protect your privacy and personal information, allowing the department to know exactly who accessed your data, and when. Right now, DPS does not have the ability to audit the bulk data it provides to vendors.

Critics question that rationale.

"There's never been a breach by anybody that uses this data under the federal law. The breaches have been law enforcement and hackers into financial service websites," Kulda said.

Kulda also said insurers still have little information on a subscription service which will handle many more data requests once the policy is in place.

"Our biggest concern is the state hasn't had a good history of rolling out new computer, technical, online services recently. And so, because of that, I think there is wisely some skepticism on whether it's going to work," Kulda said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS recently obtained emails sent by DPS officials on this issue. A deputy commissioner wrote to an official in Gov. Dayton's office saying industry groups, "continue to misrepresent information to the media and to legislators."

Another document states that while the policy's main objective is data security, "Additional revenue can be generated to help support DVS activities, specifically additional auditing tools and staffing needed to meet the demands of the inquiries." Last month, a DPS official stated in an email that she couldn't even guess how much extra money the new policy would bring in.

Industry groups are hoping to learn more about the new policy -- and that subscription service -- at a meeting with DPS officials on Wednesday morning.

DPS has said previously that the subscription service is not new -- it's been in place for 10 years, and is already used by about two dozen insurance companies, without issue.