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Should The Government Profit Off Our Private Data?

We have some thoughts on the matter.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has been making over $50 million in revenue each year, for the last three years, by selling drivers’ personal data to private companies, such as insurance companies and car-makers. A previous investigation of various DMVs across the country revealed several companies who bought the data, including LexisNexis, Experian, and private investigators.

Despite the obvious privacy implications, the question arises: should governments sell their citizens’ data for revenue? 

On the one hand, you can make the argument argue that the money is “given back” to taxpayers (according to the CA DMV, the data sale “furthers objectives related to highway and public safety”). But the issue is more complicated than that. Other things to consider:

Lack of Transparency

Many DMVs don’t tell its drivers that their data is being sold – it wasn’t until Motherboard’s investigation that it was even widely known. That’s a problem.

Lack of Opt-Out or Any Kind of Options

As far as we know, no DMV offers any kind of opt-out or blacklist option available to its drivers that would stop the DMV from selling their data to requesters or prevent their data from getting into the hands of certain companies. If the data is provided to a DMV, it’s subject to sale, and there’s nothing a driver can do about that.

It’s Unavoidable 

Going to the DMV and getting a license is an essential component of living in the United States. It’s not something someone can just choose to avoid like the latest app or even social media. It’s necessary for identification purposes as well as to have the capability to drive a car, among other things. It’s unreasonable to say that if someone didn’t want the DMV to have and sell their data, they should just avoid the DMV altogether.

If the government wants to tap into additional revenue streams, then it should at least be transparent about it and give people the option to not have their data sold. Privacy is tantamount to freedom in a lot of ways and in this case, we don’t have a lot of freedom. 

Governments should be in the business of protecting its citizens, not profiting off of them. 

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

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