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The California DMV Is Selling Drivers’ Personal Information (vice.com)
376 points by cgoodmac 56 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 161 comments

A couple of years ago my elderly neighbor asked me to drive him to the local DMV for an appointment with an examiner in order to have his driving privileges restored. He'd experienced a brief medical problem but had recovered and had signed letters from his doctors giving him the all clear.

The examiner asked all the questions you'd want to have asked to ensure public safety. Everything seemed to be going well. But, apparently at that point, the examiner noticed my friends political affiliation on his screen and lost his shit over it, angrily impugning him in ways that were hostile and unprofessional. I had to walk out of his office into the main lobby and ask for a supervisor. I hope that was a one-off situation; A low level bureaucrat having a bad day. But the fact that a small bit of personal data could be used against a person in that way is troubling.

You mean the person's political party affiliation from his voter registration? I have trouble believing this story, what state did this supposedly take place in and why would a DMV examiner have access to voter registration data? Sure, they can register people to vote, but that's not the same as two-way access to the electoral rolls. And in any case, it's hard to believe that a DMV worker would knowingly jeopardize their job in such an obviously inappropriate way.

Frankly, as someone who has dealt with the DMV since the age of 16, I have a hard time believing that their treatment of a citizen could ever jeopardize their job.

I'm not certain it's possible to be fired from the DMV. There was a story about a year ago about a woman at the CA DMV that was sleeping on the job four hours a day every day for years. She's still working there.

Why would the DMV have access to or notice political affiliation?

Was your friend wearing a MAGA hat?

>Was your friend wearing a MAGA hat?

does that somehow excuse the actions of the DMV person in any way? I don't see how it's relevant, given that a public official shouldn't discriminate against political affiliation regardless.

No need to twist everything, the question is about knowing if this is data the DMV has on their computer, or is that something that was noticed by looking at them. Where was this data known? This is the question.

I assume it has something to do with registering to vote at the DMV (a service they offer). I always naively thought they offered to do this because it was just the government trying to do something that benefits the people (their job), but now we know it's because that is very valuable information that they can sell along with your other information (otherwise they may as well toss it after forwarding it to the appropriate elections registration desk).

If they're going to store it for any reason, they should at least hide it from the low level workers... there's no reason anyone, of any political affiliation, should have to even talk about something so irrelevant to the role of the DMV. Not to mention, it would speed things along for everyone and that's a real benefit that we all need.

In many states the DMV allows you to register to vote while obtaining your drivers license (or other state ID card).

Wait what? Are votes not anonymous?

Political party affiliations are set during voter registration, which in some states can occur at the same time as getting a driver's license. (Setting a party affiliation gets you a ballot for that party's primaries.) So it'd all be in the same DMV form and the end result is a drivers license and registered voter. Party affiliation is generally public information (search for it).

At least in Florida it's not "public" but you can look it up online without any kind of privileged information other than like name and date of birth IIRC so... Effectively you can just look up party affiliation for anyone and let's be realistic here, unless the person doing it publicly declares that they've fraudulently been looking up other Florida residents voter registration records, there's no way anyone's going to get caught doing this.

It's definitely public, but it might not have an easy-to-use online portal. I bet a FOIA request or similar offline method would get the whole set.

(Source: https://dos.myflorida.com/elections/for-voters/voter-registr...)

No, he wasn't wearing anything political.

I would guess it was the other way around...

I would bet fairly good money that this originally came about as part of a government transparency effort - allowing the public to provide a check and balance against the DMV's power, with a monetary cost to cover processing expenses (theoretically saving tax money). They even show this occurring in the movie "Gone in 60 Seconds" from 2000.

That it's been co-opted for marketing isn't really surprising; most of your public records are consumed by private companies to use to make money off you. One big example is how legal proceedings show up on your credit report.

EDIT: Your driving record is indeed a public record[1]. So, easy bet.

[1] https://www.dmv.org/public-records/

It's nice they put that huge disclaimer at the top, I was actually wondering why it's not a .gov link before I clicked it.

You take the good, you take the bad.

You take it all and then you have...

Government accountability efforts mis-used by private corporations? ;)

The facts of life.

Can one submit a FOIA request, load that data into a database, and sell that data to others?

Why do companies pay the DMV for this information if they can just FOIA it from them for free?

I'm not familiar with CA's public records laws to say for sure, but I'm familiar with other public records laws, and have submitted ~1k requests throughout the US.

Technically, yes, you can request records from FOIA and sell them. Though, many public records laws are very specific about whether you are requesting as a for-profit org, and can deny your request on that basis. If that isn't the issue, then your request can be rejected for being voluminous, so generally you have to find a public interest argument for the release of records. That public interest argument very, very likely doesn't exist in the case of the info being sold here. It ends up being a major PITA to get large amounts of data.

So, orgs instead go down the contract route. There's really no need to go through the hassle of public records nuance if your contract includes access to those records.

(This is a super deep subject, so I'm just scratching the surface.)


Every single DMV does this. This data is sold to companies like Markit. It's then resold to hedge funds, market research firms, etc.

The data is extremely specific. It's a database of the majority of Americans:

  * Name
  * Age
  * Address
  * Some contact details
  * Cars registered (and the relationship to individuals and households)

I kept my last car for 9 years, and when I bought my current car, I noticed an immediate and MASSIVE uptick in postal spam. Not just vehicle-related either -- I have a feeling that "registering a new car" feeds heavily into all sorts of "target this person" algorithms.

I wish there was some way to opt out of this.

> I wish there was some way to opt out of this.

In California, there sort of is.

First: you can register _two_ addresses with the DMV. One is your "mailing address" and is what is shown on your ID and gets sold with dumps like this, the other is your "residence address" and is a little bit more protected. If someone tries to run your plate number through any civilian system, they're only going to get your "mailing address" and NEVER your "residence address."

Second: you can get a "Private Mailbox" service. PMBs are really useful in their own right, but with USPS rules you CANNOT send unsolicited or bulk mail to these addresses. The USPS keeps a database and is very good about filtering these off.

So: Get a PMB and use it as your "mailing address." This will keep the marketers one step away from your real information and will prevent large amounts of spam from reaching you. Most PMBs have a "forward when full" or "forward on schedule" service, where they'll empty your box for you and then forward all of that to whatever address you provide them.

I've been doing this for 10 years now and it's been fantastic.

> Second: you can get a "Private Mailbox" service. PMBs are really useful in their own right, but with USPS rules you CANNOT send unsolicited or bulk mail to these addresses. The USPS keeps a database and is very good about filtering these off.

I've been using PMBs for 15+ years. I still get bulk junk mail.

> I still get bulk junk mail.

I could have been more clear.. you can still get "junk mail" but you shouldn't be getting "pre-sorted bulk mail." The latter typically comes addressed to "RESIDENT or CURRENT OWNER" or something similar, which is a fair amount of standard junk, but also catalogs, coupon books, weekly shopping flyers and phone books.

Those items are typically mailed using the pre-sorted bulk rate, which is not available for PMBs and a few other types of addresses.

Anyone can just send regular rate mail to a PMB and that can obviously be "junk" or "unsolicited commercial" mail, so there are no special restrictions in that sense, but compared to my prior residential mail volume my PMB only receives about 10% the amount of "junk" that I used to endure.

Is PMB a USPS or private enterprise service?

Private companies offer PMBs. You have to fill out a form to allow them to handle the mail and get it notarized which is part of the USPS regulations.

Some states even allow a PMB to be used for both mailing and residence address for driver licenses and registration, such as South Dakota. You need proof you spent a night at a campground or hotel, along with a receipt for your PMB.

So if you sell your house to hit the road full time, your former state might be picky about address so people use a relative address or just change their domicile to a friendly state who recognizes full time RVing.

Also kinda interesting South Dakota made it illegal for red light cameras to access the DMV database, and they even revoked access to a city in Iowa on the border. So police officers must phone in all driver license and registration checks instead of being able to use the computer. So no longer automated, but cops will still manually review the footage and write a ticket as a work around. So basically no difference they witnessed it in person or sitting at a computer watching remotely. Just no longer automated process, wouldn't surprise me if for all other states still automatic but it has like a inbox for SD plates to manually review.

I guess cities all away across the country are in violation of South Dakota law possibly, but I guess at most they can do is just deny you access to their computers. and if you ended up getting a ticket it's probably still valid no matter what SD law says. I know in Ohio there's been a battle between the state and cities. Dayton for example has illegally kept the cameras on, now the state says they can but all money collected will be subtracted from any money the city gets from the state. Be interesting if Dayton ever captured any South Dakota plates, but not sure if it'd be going too far if a sheriff in a small county decided to expedite the mayor of Dayton, Ohio to stand trial for violating South Dakota data access laws.

> just change their domicile to a friendly state who recognizes full time RVing

That's like a ship's flag of convenience... Do any states actively encourage RVers to change domicile? Presumably they could get tax returns from it? I'm guessing RVers are a mixture of high and low income earners.

SoDak has no state income tax, so perhaps there is some other benefit to the state.

Perpetual trusts

Not too sure, people say FL, TX, and SD are the popular ones. FL seems to be by county though, as each county tax office handles this stuff, instead of a statewide DMV. Oregon has a "continuous traveler" status, but apparently, you must already be an Oregon resident.

SD I guess is making millions from people who barely use the roads. Some say it's to inflate population for census numbers, so more seats in congress, electoral college votes and federal funding... But not sure how RVers are counted... Not sure if they send census forms to PMBs.

Also was reading census workers will go to hotels and campgrounds, but that sounded odd to me since aren't a lot of those people are on vacation? Some say it's supposed to be a snapshot of April first. So I guess if a New York resident is spending the winter in FL, then FL would get credit for them? It seems like some different interpretations.

Then your former state might be strict about addresses, unless you use a relative or homeless shelter address... but if you are RVing by choice, don't really think a homeless shelter would be appropriate and if you are across the country I feel like they'd expect you to come to pick up your mail instead of forwarding it or scanning it. I know I heard a story someone in Michigan rented a mailbox because they didn't want to go worried about another domicile yet, changed it online and they accepted it. Then later got a letter with a short amount of time to get a residential address or be suspended. So they had to either use a family or friend's address or rush to another state. So a lifelong resident was kicked out of their home state because they wanted to live an alternative lifestyle.

So if your state doesn't recognize full time RVing, you are stuck getting established in a new state. Full time RVers with money sometimes struggle with this, getting all the documents together. One couple went to SD but his wife had to get a new copy of her marriage license. Also, some states won't accept some birth certificates anymore due to Real ID, meaning you need to get a new one. I guess the rules changed about 20 years ago. I feel sorry for people who are truly homeless, and then you need one document to get another document, proofs of address, affidavits, and everything. It feels like a real way to suppress people sadly.

At least with SD and FL, you don't have to physically bring your car though... So you could fly if forced to change on short notice, get a new license and register your cars. FL will let you register without bringing it too, however, you need a VIN inspection affidavit but even out of state police officers are allowed to sign it. Some RV blogs talk about that. SD has no vin inspections, and there was a group of fraudsters changing vin numbers slightly to register stolen cars in SD because of how lax they are. November 2018 it looks is when the theft ring got caught.

Also, SD doesn't require an in state address for registrations, only licenses. There was a report that Nebraska residents registered in South Dakota because it's cheaper, however, if you live in Nebraska with a Nebraska driver license, you are breaking the law in Nebraska. Maine is supposed to be lax too with trailers and motorcycles if I recall. Some trucking companies also pick lax states.

Some estimate there are a million RVers, I kinda wish the feds would step in and offer a program maybe. If you worked remotely traveling full time or retired in an RV, I think it's stupid you have to still be tied to a state somehow. Right now only US government owned vehicles have federal license plates. But I guess no one really considered this was a possibility maybe? One county in SD has more RVers than people with actual houses and apartments. Apparently, you can vote for state and fed elections with your PMB, but local issues they won't let you anymore I've heard from someone in a FB group... Not sure how true that is or even if that's legal since that's the address on your license and even a homeless person using a park bench could vote. Clay County in FL has also been challenging voting rights for RVers. There was a lawsuit in Texas over RVers using an address in Livingston, TX but Texas recognized their voting rights in the end.

Some people RV by choice traveling the country, while out in cities where housing is so high people buy a RV that barely runs to live in them on the side of the street, some even dumping sewage since can't afford a dump station. So I think some RV people are homeless, but the ones doing it by choice I wouldn't consider them homeless even though some might view them as homeless. Some RVs can get expensive, there are million dollar ones with granite countertops, but then they probably weight more so more fuel. I think personally I'd aim around 35 feet, as probably could fit more places compared to a 40 footer.

I follow some vloggers, but I think it's a neat lifestyle to dream of, plus tech keeps getting better and better. Some day might even have decent satellite internet. Some people even have full time RV families too, doing homeschooling aka roadschooling. One guy owns a marketing company, so he can pretty much manage things from an RV or on a cruise ship. So be nice to follow the weather, sightsee and explore. But it's not an all vacation, got to balance work and play, still got to clean, go grocery shopping, etc. Similar to living in a house but it has wheels. But the whole country can be your backyard.

>Some estimate there are a million RVers, I kinda wish the feds would step in and offer a program maybe. If you worked remotely traveling full time or retired in an RV, I think it's stupid you have to still be tied to a state somehow. Right now only US government owned vehicles have federal license plates. But I guess no one really considered this was a possibility maybe? One county in SD has more RVers than people with actual houses and apartments. Apparently, you can vote for state and fed elections with your PMB, but local issues they won't let you anymore I've heard from someone in a FB group... Not sure how true that is or even if that's legal since that's the address on your license and even a homeless person using a park bench could vote. Clay County in FL has also been challenging voting rights for RVers. There was a lawsuit in Texas over RVers using an address in Livingston, TX but Texas recognized their voting rights in the end.

This is basically what already SD does and they do so easily so there's little demand for a federal service.

SD's policy is basically that no matter what it is as long as you can provide some sort of proof of ownership you can tag it. To someone who lives out of an RV and has no good way of proving an address or a myriad of other situations can often be out of luck (or in for a heck of a battle with the bureaucracy) in other states. SD makes a buck off that inefficiency.

IMO if the other states don't want to lose out on the tax money then they should make their processes not suck. Except for people from a few states with sky high cost of registration we're talking like a double digit number of dollars per year. With a difference that small most people with a residence will just register in that state for peace of mind.

Yeah I'm not sure why some states are so strict. I wonder if it because some states offer more social programs? Like some states expanded who could qualify for healthcare? Like the 3 RV states people recommend don't have expanded medicaid. It's like states are saying no thanks to free money... Get registration fees, can then tax their income, etc.

But I guess that's their loss and SD has carved out a niche for themselves.

Then also was doing research randomly about colleges, you could be a resident for taxes but not for in-state tuition. Then if you lived in California but your parents decided to retire to Florida... but if you wanted to stay in California for school, since tuition goes by your parents domicile while still a dependent. There could be a period of time you won't be eligible for instate tuition in California anymore, but not yet in Florida yet either as some states it can be 12 months or more to qualify. Sometimes it's a full calendar year, not staying for six months. Then also it seems schools like info on parents even if you aren't a dependant anymore, was reading someone in his 30s was going back for his masters and the admissions person was giving him a hard time for leaving his parents info blank. I wonder if maybe they wanted it to help track him down for any future unpaid debts maybe, seemed really odd to me but maybe it's common.

I got accepted in a school in Florida but never went as my family didn't want me taking out a lot of loans. It was a private school, so tuition being in state or not didn't matter. But they asked for contact info for my step dads work, wanted another family members info like say a uncle, friends contacts, etc. Was doing it all over online over the phone and e-signing stuff. 60,805 total for four years, but that didn't include housing and they were a bit pushy. The rep even asked if you want to be like your parents and stuff to try and pressure you.

Part of the agreements that states have to exchange data is to provide free access for law enforcement purposes.

If what you said applied to other states, somebody would have ceased exchanging data with them.

Yeah there’s some articles on it, been a little while since looking at it. I’m guessing the system couldn’t tell the difference between cameras or cruisers computers. So if a city is found doing so, they can cut access but officers still can call someone to access the information over the phone. Slows things down though.

Looks like it passed in 2014.

https://sdlegislature.gov/Statutes/Codified_Laws/DisplayStat... and https://sdlegislature.gov/Statutes/Codified_Laws/DisplayStat...

so I guess it's illegal to collect people's info for civil red light or speed cameras... However I don't know if that's a good enough excuse to dismiss the ticket. I feel like they'd issue them regardless of what SD says, but then they risk losing computer access.

Some cities in Iowa said they'd respect South Dakota's law while other cities said they wouldn't .Sounds like Sioux City, IA was the main city they got in a battle with.

https://www.foxnews.com/us/border-war-iowa-finds-way-to-issu... and https://www.ksfy.com/home/headlines/South-Dakota-blocks-Siou... and https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/business-journal/2019...

People still getting tickets though, but kinda interesting SD made it harder.

Edit: I found the article! "Daugaard’s office sent Sioux City a letter on Tuesday evening saying Sioux City officers will only receive a registered owner’s name when making an electronic request for information. Officers will be able to call South Dakota dispatchers to gain address information for any criminal enforcement purpose."


But it also kinda makes me wonder how well states even log access. For example a state trooper pulled over a miami police officer at gun for speeding and leading her on a chase. So then the two departments had bad blood with each other, and even that trooper got harassing phone calls, threats, prank calls even pizzas ordered to her house. It's alleged that officers from 25 juridictions all across the state illegally accessed her info to retaliate. Wouldn't surprise me if Facebook or Google has stricter policies on viewing personal information than the states do. I heard snooping through users data at a lot of tech companies is a fireable offence. It seems like being a police officer is like joining some sort of cult if this is how they retaliate agaisnt a fellow officer for following the law.

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-sb-jane-watts-... and https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/miami-cops-stalking-woman...

States have sovereign immunity, if South Dakota pushed the issue they’d lose. All of that data exchange usually happens at the state level.

The Florida issue isn’t a rule issue, its imo already a no-no.

A simple fix for this would be the sender to be required to show where they obtained your personal data from:

"We have obtained your personal data from the following company / database".

Attribution is one thing.

Right to legal remedy (read: lawsuit), far more powerful.

Not saying it's the case, but could this also be in relation to the dealer and/or insurance companies you've used for quotes?

When I bought a home, I got a wave of homeowner spam mail with "postage-paid" envelopes. I started mailing them their own mail back, torn to shreds, in their prepaid envelope, and eventually it stopped.

"I wish there was some way to opt out of this."

Agreed, but I would much rather it be opt-in. Privacy should be a default, not an added burden.

Can you own and register a vehicle through a business without purchasing commercial insurance?

I'm not 100% sure but I think the answer is no. You can however purchase a car via a trust if you want to obfuscate ownership. You can also have a law firm purchase it for you. Of course both of those things cost money and only really rich people do it.

Interesting about trusts, I've seen articles talking about that, wealthy people do that to protect their assets. I know celebrities create trusts to try to hide where they live for privacy since they don't want to be stalked in their own home by fans. But some states apparently consider large Diesel Vehicle automatically commercial if registered to a trust, instead of a living person. So fuel tax permits, log book, etc.

Many states exempt RVs from those rules, and it goes by your state of domicile. So legal in FL, your also legal in TX or IL... So to drive a 38 foot RV, towing a Jeep weighting over 26,000 pounds is just needing a large checkbook, no real experience in about half the US. I know NY and TX are a bit stricter, but FL, SD, TN, OH it's just having the money, thanks to the RV lobby wanting to make it easier for retired couples. Kinda interesting If you lived in NY, sold the house, then rented a mailbox and spend a night in South Dakota, then spend a half hour at the very empty small town DMV. Now you have a more powerful driver license by default than New York State issues.

School buses are considered commercial vehicles, but rip out the seats, put a bed, fridge, stove, bathroom and retitle it as a RV, then no longer need a CDL to drive the same bus too, but some states make it easier than others to do a conversion. Some states it's just filing out a form, while others are more picky wanting to inspect it.

So the rich can afford to buy privacy but it's a luxury for normal people.

In most states you can get a bond, both for personal and business vehicles.

The plus side is that all this spam is helping fund the USPS.

I just want to point out that the first three items on your list are even more easily accessible through the voter rolls. You can buy the statewide voter list, usually in convenient CSV files (though every state does it differently), from the your local state government at a very low cost.

That's what I thought, that's already public knowledge. The dumb thing is whoever is buying doesn't know that. I guess the pairing with car registration is the key thing.

It's all the more amazing, then, that those scams that try to convince you that your warranty is expiring and sell you a new one can never answer the question "which vehicle are you referring to?"

Perhaps they only understand "to which vehicle are you referring?" :)

Yeah, I heard those warranty calls people at random, but wouldn't surprise me if some bought people's information from the DMV, especially if they did know your model.

This is exactly right. It's one of the many reasons why I ditched my car as soon as that was feasible.

> * Some contact details

this includes phone numbers and it causes about 90% of phone spam...

Vehicle registration information is very important to a lot of businesses. I don't like the idea of personal information being tied to it.

Aka a CLUE report.

plus as I found out more than a decade ago before the public really caught wind of how all this interconnects, combine it with easily captured properly records and even vehicle registration data, and if someone wants to stalk you they can do it all with government provided data. Better yet, good smarts when combining the information can lead to income strata and more.

hence why I have been always poking at the fact that facebook, google, and their like, are not the threat. the threat has always been government, either through open records like this is people within it using other internal databases to find ways to harass you.

The government is the best place to have data because regulation limit sharing significantly within government. Bureaucracy hates risk. In most cases, government entities cannot mix data from DMV and say Medicaid.

The risk is the bigger data aggregators, as they mix this data and add value. The data is sold on the cheap. Adtech and data aggregation is almost completely deregulated, and these companies add “value”, which is risk to you as an individual.

So the problem isn't government having information on you, it's that 'because America' they're allowed to distribute and even SELL the information non-anonymized for no good reason.

> facebook, google, and their like, are not the threat. the threat has always been government

How does it follow from one group being a threat, that the other one is not? This is an awfully weird form of denial. It would be more coherent to insist that there is absolutely no problem with any surveillance.

> hence why I have been always poking at the fact that facebook, google, and their like, are not the threat. the threat has always been government

It's fascinating how this view is typically American, while the exact opposite is more common in Europe.

Will CA be in violation if their own privacy laws?


It only applies to businesses, not government, of course. My question is, if they are collecting $50 million per year, why are my fees still so damn high? I already pay over $1,000 per year to register my family's three cars, and to put my name in their database. Now they are collecting money from selling this information.

> My question is, if they are collecting $50 million per year, why are my fees still so damn high?

Well, the CA DMV has like 70 offices across the state. Even if you just calculate the portion of the cost for processing driver license management, registration, etc, it'll easily eat those 50 million USD + whatever the total driver license etc fees are.

I hate interacting with the CA DMV with quite some passion, but I don't see how those 50 million USD are really the problem. If anything, the DMV seems under staffed / financed. Partially that's management problems, sure, but I don't think that's all.

Random anecdote: I moved to VA back in the 99-00 period. The then-new governor had made improving DMV part of his resume projects, and spent a boatload of money on improving several aspects - more hiring, tech upgrades, and some process upgrades like creating different lines for different kinds of business and a ticketing system so you could sit until called.

It was a great experience. show up, someone ( no waiting!) asks me what I'm there for and hands me the appropriate form (circling the actual areas I needed to answer) and gives me a ticket. in 5ish mins I was called up, handed in my form and papers, and they processed my new ID, sending me to a second area for a pic and to get my ID. Total visit time: less than 15 mins.

Several years later, after a new governor and the inevitable budget cuts, most of this was gone. Still had the intake, but no one helped me decipher the form, and the wait was much longer. The atmosphere was similarly dour, with a big crowd of people that just wanted to get this errand done but had to wait. Total visit time: over 1 hour.

But the basic contrast showed me how much of complaints about govt slowness is just a matter of funding/staffing.

I moved from CA to MT 20 years ago and my first experience with the DMV (MVD in local parlance) was transformative. No line, friendly helpful employees. Not the result of some governor project: we just always had efficient government, presumably due to low population and small town values.

I recently had to figure out how to register a vehicle bought out of state: rather than research online it was quicker and more pleasant to just walk in and ask.

I moved from CA to MT a few months ago. Same experience. I've wanted to hug the DMV people here every time I've gone because they are so nice and helpful.

I’ve had the good fortune to get to the DMV before it opened to meet an already snaking line and then have the privilege to wait in line about 4.5 hours and then take a half hour to complete my appointment.

That’s the DMV in San Francisco —Daly City in this case because I can at least find parking.

Registration fees fund highway maintenance, the CHP, and other services that are necessary to be able to drive your car. They’re not just paying for the DMV itself.

Given that the fees don't cover things like offsetting the impact of a car’s CO2 emissions, you might even ask why are your fees so damn low?

Because the state does this in lieu of other, more traditional tax sources due to crap like Prop 13.

California has been running budget surpluses since 2011.

That's because the state is putting money in its rainy day fund for whenever the next recession/depression shows up.

Always running the government lean means that service cuts will be much worse during hard times because there's no money saved up.

"Statewide property tax revenues are estimated to increase 6 percent in 2018-19 and 6.8 percent in 2019-20" [1]

National average for property tax revenue growth is ~4% YoY [2].

TLDR, California sees a bigger Property tax revenue growth then the national average.

[1] http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/2019-20/pdf/BudgetSummary/RevenueE...

[2] https://www.bankrate.com/real-estate/property-tax-rates-us/


> But California’s effective tax rate is even lower. The effective tax rate is based on the market value of the home, and the most recent property tax bills for the county. In 2018, the state had an effective tax rate of 0.76%, according to Irvine, California-based ATTOM Data Solutions. California’s effective tax rate ranked 36th in the country, with the average property tax bill coming out to $5,354, according to ATTOM’s data. That lower effective property tax rate is because so many properties do not change ownership for decades or for generations, while property values have posted healthy increases, Mr. Soroy said.

Just want to say this is a brilliant comment.

assuming sarcasm?

if not, 40m people in CA -> this is $1.25/person/year. or 14m estimated cars; this is $3.57/car/year.

On the contrary, What is a reasonable cost/car overhead at scale for the following:

1) email + snail mail registration reminder 2) accept digital payments 3) maintain database of registered vehicles

DMV fees pay for far more than just running the DMV offices. They also fund the CHP, state highways, and many other items. There are more details here: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/brochures/fast....

There's no "of course" needed - for example, in Europe the GDPR also applies to government institutions. There's an exception that allows you to process data if it's necessary to fulfil the requirements some other law (doh), and for most gov't institutions there are explicit laws and regulations saying what (and how) they must do; but other than that they have all the same restrictions on data processing as private institutions.

So if the new California privacy legislation is being abused by certain government institutions, that's not an unavoidable situation, and the voters should keep pressure on their representatives to amend these laws and change that.

I think that the "of course" was intended more as an ironic or even fatalistic comment that the government wouldn't _want_ to hold itself to the same standards as those eeeevil corporations, rather than implying that it shouldn't do so.

Government is not a single entity with shared interests. Often the elected lawmakers do want to hold all the bureaucrats in the many government institutions accountable and light their butts on fire for any transgressions - after all, people using the DMV have much more votes than DMV officials.


I agree, we should dispose with the cops. Private security for those who have bootstrapped themselves into the means to pay for it, sure, but that's it.

I know you're being sarcastic but there's valid reasons for a municipality to just award a contract to the best value bidder for policing the same way they do for other services.

If the 3rd party screws up and gets sued the taxpayer isn't footing the bill so they have incentive not to screw up. Every time the contract renews you have an opportunity to go with a totally new organization whereas even the best efforts at refreshing a government department wind up as a sort of ship of Theseus. A 3rd party also has a damn good incentive not to treat people badly because they are the customer and they have a contract renewal hanging over their head. A 3rd party also has no incentive to spend big bucks operating MRAPs and other military toys that are not relevant to the job at hand. It probably makes sense to retain investigative work under the government umbrella (avoids some conflicts of interests) but for routine patrol duties, security and traffic detail there is no advantage to having official government police instead of private security, at least from the perspective of the people being policed.

A lot of societies current gripes with policing would be mitigated under the incentive structure that having a 3rd party contractor gets you. I'm sure other problems would pop up but I don't think they would equal or surpass our current problems so it would be a net improvement.

Private prisons seem to be a good counterexample here. Not only does the profit motive lead to inhumane conditions and perverse corruption, such as the Chicago(?) judge getting a kickback for every juvenile sent into the system. The outsourcing of that "monopoly on power" OP decried exaggerates any problems inherent in the government<->citizen relation: civil servants at least have a certain professional ethos, swear an oath, are usually invested in a long-term career, have pensions to look forward to (and not risk), are subject to far more rules (FOIA etc), can mostly not escape liability through bankruptcy, and so on.

Privatised security is an almost prototypical dystopian nightmare. Look no further than TSA. Millgram might have fudged his data, but the idea that giving someone a uniform and power over others tends to awry is still somewhat plausible.

Other examples: those rent-a-goons shooting civilians in Iraq for sport. (With, by the way, double the salary and many military toys not relevant to the job at hand). The US health system also comes to mind, only that you would have even less choice to chose your local police short of moving.

> Look no further than TSA.

I've generally had better experiences with airports whose TSA screening is contracted out to third parties (eg. SFO) than those where it's done by the government agency itself (eg. JFK, Boston Logan).

> such as the Chicago(?) judge getting a kickback for every juvenile sent into the system.

the "kids for cash" scandal was in Pennsylvania unless you were thinking of another case where that was going on.

I seem to recall similar stories from Louisiana and Florida, except the Florida one also involved digging up bodies from unmarked graves around the "boot camp" for delinquent juveniles. My memory is suspect, so maybe do your own research.

There's also the movie "Holes", the book it was based on, and the reality it was based on. "Boot camps" are plagued with corruption, abuse, and neglect all over the US. Wherever you are, if you dig deeply enough, you are likely to find someone profiting from children's misery.

BTW this sort of happened in Camden NJ. Continually crime ridden and poor, it's the East St. Louis of Philadelphia. They had problems negotiating with the fire department and police for years over budget cuts, contract negotiations etc. Eventually they fired the entire police force and created a joint one with the entire county of Camden. Things seem to be working slightly better since then.

Anyway I am sure I got some details wrong, it was fairly interesting news when it all went down.

Outsourcing risk to a third party contractor is an amazing way to get transparency, efficiency and responsive government.

Look at the US military procurement programs. By getting unaccountable soldiers out of the way, we have cost-efficient, effective contractors saving the taxpayer money every day.

Building roads, writing traffic rules or enforcing them just isn't amendable to optimisation using your preferred mechanism of free-market economics. Or, more accurately: competition only works for rather large competitive difference needed to overcome the natural friction introduced by the difficulties of moving.

It's painful to see that people seem to not even be aware anymore that our societies have yet another organising principle beyond capitalism, namely democracy.

Sure, you never agreed to be somewhat dependent on "society". But there just isn't enough land to live in the anarcho-libertarian fantasy where you don't have to find compromises. And the standard hyperbole of the "threat of violence" makes even less sense if you unquestioningly champion capitalism while rejecting democracy, because capitalism also relies on the ultimate threat of violence, as anyone not paying their rent will notice sooner or later.

If you're in California, you should be calling your state representative today asking why the government is exempt from this legislation.


If we re-framed this as "California Hall of Records selling property purchase records for an administrative fee" would folks have the same reaction?

Is the problem here that they are selling DMV records related to authorization to drive a car (public records) or that in order to exist you need an identification and therefore regardless of whether you own a car you have to deal with the DMV?

I would argue it is the latter. Defacto sale of one's identity that is required by the state to interact with it.

Outside of that record, I have no problem with public records being available to the public provided the fee structure is not causing corruption / capture (causing prices to inflate unreasonably) and data is being provided to everyone at the same rate.

> Is the problem here that they are selling DMV records related to authorization to drive a car (public records) or [...]

I think the problem is that they're selling people's phone number AND full address (which most people consider private information, not assumed to be public).

If they sold all of that together with your name I could see that as a problem. I didn't see that in the case of California, but follow-on Vice articles report

> The data sold varies from state to state, but it typically includes a citizen's name and address. In others, it can also include their nine-digit ZIP code, date of birth, phone number, and email address

If a state were to sell all of those things that would indeed be odd.

"Is the problem here that they are selling DMV records"

Given that the California CPA clearly considers this type of information to be private, not public, information, that seems like a fair thing to consider a problem...

Yes, there are states where that information is not for sale / not freely available.

There's no particular reason that car ownership (or house ownership and pricing) needs to be public information.

The dumbest part about this is that for less than $1.50/person/year we could raise the same amount of money and not have to do this. I'm honestly more upset at how little money California gets for selling this than I am about the selling of it.

They could use that money to build an automated DMV office free of the lackluster human employees that seem to be a big part of the CA DMV's massive problem. Automated DMV tellers don't get repetitive overuse injuries from typing or close the DMV office down 5 minutes early because they want to quit working.

It's happening. There is an automated DMV kiosk in my local supermarket. Vehicle registration is actually faster there than it is online!

Nice! I am very much looking forward to seeing these everywhere.

Another source of driver data sold by California and numerous other states is smog-test results. These are sold specifically to insurance industry processors for "policy adjustment", usually increasing rates for high-mileage drivers, often labourers and the poor who must travel to multiple job sites or commute long distances between affordable housing and living-wage jobs.

The California data -- in "BAR-90" or "BAR-97" formats, included 100s, possibly several thousand, individual fields. The datasets were based on test standards and equipment, those are documented here: https://www.bar.ca.gov/pdf/BAR-97_Specification_July_2017.pd...

Key elements are the owner's name, VIN, vehicle make, model, year, and colour, and the odometer reading (of interest to insurers).

> These are sold specifically to insurance industry processors for "policy adjustment", usually increasing rates for high-mileage drivers...

I'm not condoning selling this data, but high-mileage drivers are probably more expensive to insure because more miles means more accidents. Auto insurance companies shouldn't be a public policy mechanism to subsidize low-wage workers.

Yes, there's a correlated actuarial risk.

But there's also an equitibilty element to that risk: it falls inordinantly on those who must drive, must drive long distances, and have no viable alternatives -- carpooling, transit, or remote work. Most impacted are delivery drivers (obviously), particularly those who use their own vehicles (e.g., pizza and other low-end delivery work), real estate agents, construction workers, service workers, rural residents generally, and those with nonstandard commute patterns, either off-peak, alternate-shift, multiple jobs, or highly-variable hours.

To the extent that these are workers often under-compensated for their work, and offering services benefiting society at large, the impacts are all the more inequitable. The risks are independent of actual driver safety practices and attentiveness.

Insurance is an inherently social function, one that's heavily regulated, and has specific exemptions to anti-trust regulations, in return for the benefits it provides. All business ultimately serves the public interest (or should -- an unpopular view but one expressed explicitly by Adam Smith), and should society determine that a specific public interest be served, then it has the legal authority to mandate and regulate those goals.

> there's also an equitibilty element to that risk...

You already said this, and while I'd like to see more data, I don't outright disagree with the premise that low-wage workers might drive more in personal vehicles.

And you didn't address my point that, if you think these workers should be subsidized, there are better, more direct ways than through insurance companies. Could be a minimum wage, tax credits for vehicles driven for work, better regulations around personal vehicles used for work.

I don't presently have access to the data. When I did, the relationships were informally noted, though a general relationship seemed to hold.

Looking for "commute distance vs. income" I'm not finding much by way of useful results, though a commute time by state/city (tracked by the US Census) is available. That conflates private vehicle vs. transit use (transit tends to take longer), and congestion vs. distance. For the most part, the data show longer times in urban and coastal states, and much shorter especially in the intermountain / western plains states.

... Except for the deep south, where you'll find both low incomes and long commute times.

That's very broad-scale data, but provides a hint of disparity.


What if you buy an old car because you can't afford a new car?

It's important to understand that extra money like this, outside of the budget the agency needs to run itself, is a fund that the head of the agency gets to use as a piggy bank for him and his friendly friends that write the operating rules in the state capital. You can't fight political grease of this magnitude with some fleeting transparency.

I'm curious about a couple of things that aren't quite covered in the article?

- Where's the "Buy it Now" page for this data?

- Is the information sold in aggregate or per record?

- Do Californian's have an idea of who is buying the information?

- Do Californians have an option to opt-out?

Californians are approaching a knowledge saturation point at which the overwhelming majority will understand on some level that the bulk of their data is available for sale any number of different ways and effectively ubiquitous. Transparency is unavoidable; if you don't want anyone to know you have 3 cars don't buy so many cars.

When did anybody opt-in to this misuse of this information? It should only have a single use for verification of a driver being licensed by the DMV and zero other uses.

I've often heard the government should be operated like a company. I'm happy to see some progress towards that goal.

"Information is only released pursuant to legislative direction, ..." I read that: "...per the direction of lobbyists."

AFAIK, in most places registration, driver's license and even voter registration details are considered public record. There are a lot of non-marketing reasons why companies would want to aggregate this data.

Disclaimer: I work for an election services company (printing mostly), but don't know the details of the above.

This is nothing. New York hands over driver info for the foreign company that operates the tolls on Canadian highway 407 in Toronto. Meanwhile other Canadian provinces have data protection laws that protect their citizens from this company.

The joke's on all those people who fell for the "Real ID" scam. I was just at SFO and they are pushing it heavily. Provides no value to the holder, but plenty of value to others.

The Real ID is not a scam. The government will require it in order to use most public and private transportation soon.

An interesting side-effect of CA making the Real ID mandatory is that it will force an element of our population to either move to another state or submit to whatever nefarious controls they believe the Real ID imposes upon them.

I struggle to find something that is improved by requiring a “real ID”

You will still be able to fly without Real ID (or any Gov issued ID at all, in most cases), but you will be subject to secondary screening measures.


This is how I fly today (literally this morning).

As an unexpected bonus I no longer need to argue that no I cannot go through the machine that will fry my glucose monitor nor do they try to open my sterile medication any more.

Yes but what problem is being solved through this requirement?

I wonder if personal data such as organ-donor status are sold. See top comment here [https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21239704] for the CA organ-donor online portal link and general discussion on the topic of harvesting.

Note: I am unable to respond to comments, so don't expect it. - verizon

In Germany and Switzerland communities do the same. This data includes name, age, religion, car insurance and number plate, address, former address, marriage status.

The GDPR would be so proud...

Couldn’t they just sell cookies or something instead?

I got it...

Ask the armed services for some lunch money...

The air force could just donate half a wing of an f35 and it would more than pay for this...

I thought it’s best if government is run like a business?

Cool, let me know when I can start my own DMV and certify myself to drive without giving the government any information. Then it'll be like a business, and I won't care if they sell the data you willingly provide them.

Ironically, you'd have to hand your data over to the government to form the business, leaving you vulnerable to your data being sold anyways.

Plus, it's highly likely (based on existing private companies handling public works) that you'd have to provide your own name as a driver to the government for auditing and revocation purposes.

If you want legal rights from the government, you have to give them legal data. And for the purposes of transparency, you have to be able to get that data back out, which is likely how this particular loophole came about originally.

Ohio has privately-owned BMV franchises. The still send the info to the government though. But at least you can fulfill half of that fantasy.

I'm hoping Texas doesn't sell this stuff.

Not sure if they sell it, but pretty much any personal data associated with the state government in Texas is available for free online. For at least one major county, there is an online database where you can get the owner details for a given property address (and vice versa). There is other stuff available as well, hopefully at some point Texan voters will wise up.

I have bad news:


(That site started out selling access to Texans' records.)

huh? don’t they all do that? i thought this was common practice and common knowledge

every state is doing this and has been for a really long time (decades)


Would you please stop posting unsubstantive and/or flamebait comments to HN? That's not what this site is for.


This is an outrage. Only private companies like Google, Facebook, LexisNexis, Experian, Equifax, Corelogic, Nielsen, Acxiom, Datalogix, Epsilon, Spokeo, Radaris, ID Analytics, eBureau, Intelius, PeekYou, Rapleaf, and Recorded Future should profit from information about me.

I get what you're saying, and broadly agree that data brokering is dirty and gross.

But the government selling your data to the highest bidder is worse than a private firm doing it - because they have the significant advantage of being the source of truth of that data itself. Every other firm is likely needing to piece together the public data that's out there, or that they've gathered themselves, and package it up. The government can just sell the data out of its operational database and guarantee its accuracy. The incentives here are really grim.

We need to tell the government that this is not ok. They might even then think of stopping private firms from doing the same.

Importantly you also absolutely can’t avoid giving your data to the government. And if you try to lie and create a fake “DMV profile” for yourself to keep your data secure you’re gonna end up in serious trouble.

Because drivers licenses have very little the ability to pass a drivers test. Let's be honest.

Also, google can't tell me that I'm not allowed to drive if I don't give them personal information. I can't just go to DuckDuckGo's DMV instead of giving my data to the government.

But you may not be allowed to ride in their cars.

Given the general sentiment of "people shouldn't be allowed to drive once L5 driving automation is implemented" on forums like this and even among the general public, not being allowed to ride in Google (or Uber's) cars could become a particularly big deal.

Even so, it is possible for DuckDuckGo to introduce privacy-respecting self driving car services. The point still stands that nobody, ever, will be able to provide a competitive, privacy respecting, competitor to the DMV.

Here we go. Your "personal" data is (and has been for a long time) a public record, which is in practice available to anybody who wants to ask the government for it.


Which, again, is even worse.

Even Facebook is protecting my data better than the DMV. Even back-alley shady deals that share my data with undisclosed partners are preferable to literally allowing anyone who asks to have it.

It's crazy how much information on ordinary people is considered public -- including voting information like party affiliation, which is just absurd to me. People shouldn't be able to just ask the government which party I'm registered with.

They're not selling your data to the highest bidder. It seems like they're selling it to people that appear to demonstrate a need for the data per their policies, and there is no bidding process, but rather a fee structure for all users. This is quite a bit different than providing to select groups after a winner-take-all scenario.

This kind of information is available on most if not all property and business. I'm not sure why it would be different for automobiles? Public records are public. Would you feel better if this was provided for free to anyone vs. some sort of revenue-generator for the state? The last question is not rhetorical. I'm honestly not sure which one would be practically best, though data availability for free sounds like the best option to avoid corruption.

They also have the unique ability to effectively compel you to provide that information. At least with private companies you have [the illusion of] of choice.


We've banned this account for breaking the site guidelines. Could you please not create accounts to do that with?


The government is supposed to be governing. They're the referee. If a private entity does something that is illegal, the government can punish them. If the private entity does something that we agree ought to be illegal but isn't the government can change the laws. When the government does illegal/should-be-illegal things itself, you have an entity who's incentives are to not address the problem.

What about Criteo?


Did you make a username 'smug forgetting smug' just to make this comment? For your next throwaway can I recommend: smgfgttgs 'smug forgetting thugs'?

You are completely free to leave California.

you don't know that. you don't know what economic or social reasons they have to stay in CA. It really isn't fair to ask someone to quite their job, leave their friends and family, and move somewhere else to protect their privacy.

Besides, as another commenter pointed out, it's quite possible other states do the same.

Yes but all those words you just wrote apply just as well to a corporation. (Employment or use of products)

There is a difference between moving to a different state and using a different product, but I see your point.

As long as they use it to reduce wait times at the DMV and invest it in technological improvements.. I don't think I have a problem with it. They own my information anyway, the government compels me to give them my info, so if they're using it wisely... more power to them.

I am getting tired of seeing privacy issues treated so casually. If this doesn't upset you, its because you are misinformed. From what do you think many of today's largest companies are deriving their value? Why are these companies so valuable?

Are you seriously OK with profit-driven organizations collecting information about every aspect of your life, then turning around and using it to manipulate your behavior?

As long as those for profits don't share it further, I guess I'd be ok...

You should think about that a little bit harder. First off, you don’t need to guess, this is already happening. Second, there is already obvious societal harm being done. How do you think we ended up with an antivax movement, or hyper polarized politics?

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