On Driver's Privacy Protection
Statement of Susan Herman, Executive Director, National Center for Victims of Crime, Before the U.S. Senate Committee Subcommittee on Transportation
April 4, 2000
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and members of the Subcommittee. My name is Susan Herman,
and I'm the Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. The National
Center works with 10,000 organizations across the country to help victims of crime rebuild
Thank you for inviting me to address the important issue of privacy of personal
information, specifically, how releasing motor vehicle records impacts victims of crime.
In 1994, the landmark Driver's Privacy Protection
Act required states to give licensed drivers the option to keep their contact information
confidential, limiting disclosure to narrowly defined purposes. As a result, victims of
stalking, battered women, and intimidated witnesses--who need to conceal their
whereabouts--were better able to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, because many states required affirmative requests to keep information
confidential, many people were still at risk. Without making such a request-- perhaps not
knowing the option existed-- personal information remained available to anyone able to pay
a nominal fee.
Amy Boyer, a young New Hampshire woman, did not know her life was in danger. Her
stalker, a man she barely knew in junior high school, used the Internet to get information
about her workplace and her license plate number. With just two pieces of information
purchased from Internet companies, he found her and killed her. She never knew she was at
risk. Amy Boyer never knew she needed protection.
Over the last few years, we have seen the emergence of a new pernicious crime--identity
theft. It thrives on access to personal information.
Identity theft can happen without your knowing it. Your financial security can be
shattered. And, victims who obtain a criminal record via identity theft have a
particularly difficult time clearing their names.
Mr. Chairman, because of your efforts last year, the law was amended to change the
"opt out" provision to an "opt in" provision. In other words,
individuals now have to affirmatively waive confidentiality. We applaud you. This effort
will prevent harm.
Since enactment of this historic legislation, however, the National Center has come to
believe that the scales have tipped much further in the direction of full protection of
Based on our work with victims of stalking, domestic violence, and identity theft, we
recommend that the DPPA be amended again to protect victims. There should be no options.
Drivers' personal information should never be released except as outlined
in the Act.
The National Center operates a helpline for victims of all types of crime. A large
percentage of calls come from stalking victims. One of their principle concerns is that
they don't know why they were targeted or how they were found. This is especially true in
the 40 percent of stalking cases that don't arise out of a domestic situation. Victims of
stranger stalking, at the time they were asked whether the government could release their
personal information, may have had no reason to opt for privacy. How many people know that
one in twelve women and one in forty-five men in America will be stalked during their
We also hear from victims of identity theft who tell us they, too, never realized they
were vulnerable. They were simply undergoing normal everyday activities, and their social
security number, or other information, fell into the wrong hands. Like the stalking
victims, identity theft victims had little reason to believe they needed to protect their
records when they made their opt in/opt out decision. How many people know that each year
more than 400,000 Americans will be victims of identity theft?
Viewed from a victim's perspective, the opt in/opt out decision we are now offered
really only helps people who know they are in danger or understand the risks we all face.
We've heard from too many victims who realized too late that their personal information
could be used to harm them. That's why, on their behalf, we respectfully request that
drivers' personal information, with rare exception, never be released.
In the alternative, we would urge this committee to consider legislation that would
require states to notify individuals whenever their information has been released. When
citizens give their government the right to release personal information, the government
should have an obligation to inform them every time information is released and to whom it
Last year, this committee amended the Transportation Appropriations Bill to include
social security numbers within the scope of protected information. Now, social security
numbers, like addresses, cannot be released without permission. It is unclear, however,
what effect this will have on those states that use social security numbers for the
driver's license number, or states that show the social security number on the face of the
license. That number is then available every time an individual writes a check, boards a
plane, or enters a secured building.
States should be prohibited from including social security numbers on licenses. In this
age of technology and identity theft, no one should be required to display their social
security number to countless strangers in the course of everyday life.
In summary, we believe the government should not release personal information. If this
practice continues, however, the government should at least notify individuals whenever it
does release information. And to further decrease the risk of danger, social security
numbers should be removed from licenses.
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today on this critical issue. We look
forward to working with you as you develop proposals.