In fiscal year 2018, the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) collected nearly $58 million from selling citizens’ personal information to private companies and private investigators.
The SOS sells “millions” of records a year, according to Michael Doyle, communications manager for the SOS.
“Tens of thousands of people order their own record every year. Millions of vehicle records are sold for purposes like vehicle recalls. Millions of addresses are sold for address verification by the IRS and Department of Treasury, for employment screenings and other purchasers who have certified the information will be used for a permissible purpose,” he said.
Michigan Vehicle Code section 257.208c states that the SOS can disclose “personal information” to law enforcement, insurance companies, motor vehicle business, statistics and data gathering companies, to private detective and to the media for certain purposes.
MVC section 257.40b defines “personal information” as an individual’s photo, name, address (but not the zip code), driver’s license number, Social Security number, telephone number, digitized signature and medical and disability information.
The SOS does not sell personal information for the purposes of surveys, marketing and solicitation purposes. It also does not sell “highly restricted personal information,” which is defined as an individual’s photograph or image, Social Security number, digitized signature, medical and disability information, source documents presented by an applicant to obtain an operator’s or chauffeur’s license, and emergency contact information.
“The Department of State provides driver and vehicle record information to members of the media on a daily basis for a charge of $11 per record lookup. This is a permissible use if the media is requesting information in preparation of a report relating to the operation of a motor vehicle or public safety. Among our typical lookup requests are an individual’s driving record, the owner of a vehicle with a given plate number and the title history of a vehicle,” Doyle said.
A complete database purchase has a retrieval service charge of $16 per 1,000 records. A partial database, such as specific counties or zip codes, costs $64 per 1,000 records. An individual’s driving records cost $11 or $12 certified, according to Doyle.
In fiscal year 2018, the SOS brought in $57,985,111.94 from records look-up fees.
“These are legitimate information requests under Michigan law. The department has methods of checking to make sure information is being properly used by those who request it. Anyone who attempts to use the information for a purpose other than what is permissible violates the law and may be subject to prosecution,” Doyle said.
When asked how the SOS ensures the applicants and buyers use the information for the intended purpose, Doyle said the department does not share that information publically so applicants don’t learn how to avoid detection.
“There have been instances where information has not been used properly. The department can cancel access and file a claim against the individual’s or company’s surety bond. The department has canceled companies’ access before,” Doyle said.