Invasion of privacy and the protection of driver’s license data

We live in a hyperconnected world where information is currency and disinformation can scorch across the internet and social media. Confidential information is incredibly valuable to hackers and data traffickers who can leverage our most sensitive details into profit. That is why federal and state laws recognize your right to privacy and to fight back if someone or some entity intrudes.

Identity theft is a scourge that can violate your personal and financial security, especially if thieves gain access to your driver’s license information. There is a trove of treasured data in that credit-card-sized laminate besides your name and address. It also includes your height, weight, eye color, driving record (which identifies what vehicle you have) and, most critically, your date of birth and driver’s license number.

Suddenly, in your name, there are multiple credit cards and bank accounts you did not open. Debt and headaches pile up. You did not even lose your wallet. Who is to blame?

Claims to pursue

According to the Drivers Privacy Protection Act, states are responsible for issuing driver’s licenses, managing your data and protecting it. The Minnesota Department of Driver and Vehicle Services cannot sell personal information to third-party marketers without getting permission from the individual. Exceptions are carved out for government agencies, such as courts and law enforcement, to carry out their functions, or any private person or entity on working on behalf of the government.

But breaches happen, and there are remedies for victims whose information was illegally obtained or disclosed:

  • Civil lawsuit. Anyone who accesses motor vehicle records without permission can be liable to the person whose information was viewed.
  • Actual damages. Not less than $2,500.
  • Punitive damages. If the victim can prove the disregard of the law was willful or reckless.
  • Collection of attorneys’ fees or other litigation costs reasonable incurred.

Invasion of privacy is serious. Eight years ago, a former St. Paul police officer settled several invasion of privacy lawsuits for more than $1 million in one of the state’s largest personal data breaches. Investigators revealed over 100 officers across 18 jurisdictions accessed the woman’s driver’s license record 425 times for non-work reasons over several years.

You can fight back

It might seem annoying to get unsolicited letters, emails and phone calls from marketing agencies, insurance companies or financial planning services. You can discard, delete or ignore those. But having your driver’s license information exploited by internet pirates or plain creeps can be financially and emotionally traumatizing.

Privacy should not be a commodity. It is part of your humanity and liberty as an American. You have the right to guard your persona, decide which parts to share with the world and to be alone. There might be protections you can enforce if someone violates your privacy.