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Hatch wants end to selling of driver's license info

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Mike Hatch says he wants the state Legislature to pass a law that would restrict the bulk sale of driver's license information to any commercial company. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch wants the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to stop selling driver's license information in bulk to private companies. Hatch says the DPS is compromising personal privacy and helping identity thieves.

St. Paul, Minn. — Mike Hatch says the Minnesota Department of Public Safety has sold the driver's license data to about 5,000 outside groups. He says that info can now be accessed on the Internet for the right price.

"The name, address, height, weight and driver's license number of every Minnesota driver can be accessed over the Internet by anyone willing to pay for it. If you don't think that's shocking, the threat is brought to you by state government," according to Hatch.

Hatch says he wants the state Legislature to pass a law that would restrict the bulk sale of driver's license information to any commercial company. Federal law already prevents just anyone from getting driver's license info with some exceptions. Hatch wants to tighten those restrictions even more except in the cases of the news media, government agencies and other groups.

Hatch says under his proposal anyone who wants the information would have to pay $5 per name and notify the person that they're seeking the information.

Hatch said he's concerned about the issue because driver's license information can be found on the Web site publicdata.com.

South Lake Minnetonka Police Detective Jack Talbot, who also works for the Financial Crimes Task Force, says criminals are using that Web site to counterfeit checks and driver's licenses.

"Why rob a bank? You're going to go to prison for robbing a bank. You go out and do a financial crime and unless it's the fourth or fifth time, you're probably not going to go to prison so why take the risk? Financial crimes are huge right now," says Talbot.

I think there needs to be a little more looking instead of leaping on something like this.
- Mark Anfinson

Officials with the Department of Public Safety say they only sold to companies that were authorized to access the data under federal law. They said they did not sell to publicdata.com. Officials with public data.com did not return calls for this report.

Under Gov. Ventura, the Department of Public Safety said it would no longer sell driver's license information to anyone unless the individual agreed to it. Hatch says he believes the information is still being sold.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty dismissed some of Hatch's claims as political. Hatch is running for Pawlenty's job. Pawlenty said the state is required by the state's data practices act to give the information to some groups. He also says he and Hatch have announced similar proposes in the past and still support tighter restrictions on the data.

"We agree we can work together and get this done, but to somehow suggest that this is an issue that has popped up in the past week or month is ridiculous," Pawlenty says.

While the attorney general and the governor agree that the state should restrict the sale of driver's license information, others are urging a go slow approach.

"I think there needs to be a little more looking instead of leaping on something like this," says Mark Anfinson, who represents the Minnesota Newspaper Association and specializes in public access law. While he agrees there needs to be a greater crackdown on identity theft, Anfinson says it's beneficial that some groups have access to the info. He says car insurance companies are more efficient in processing claims when they have the data. He also says car companies use the information to contact people about a recall fix.

Anfinson says federal law already has penalties forbidding groups from selling driver's license data, but he says they're not tough enough to stop the information peddling.

"There's where the problem lies, not in the basic fact that the state of Minnesota transfers this data within the framework of these exceptions because these exceptions are there for good reason," according to Anfinson.

Anfinson says it may be better to increase penalties on those who sell the public data. He says increased jail time and greater fines may make someone think twice about selling it.

Tess Rice, with the Minnesota Banker's Association, says her organization didn't know the Department of Public Safety or outside groups like publicdata.com were selling driver's license information. She says her group will watch the issue and raise it if they find it's becoming a big problem.

"We haven't seen any evidence that it has led to identity theft just because we haven't looked into the issue," she says. "Certainly it appears to be tied to identity theft, we would be concerned about it."

Public safety officials urge the public to check their online bank accounts once a day. They say that would give someone an idea if they're the victim of an identity crime as soon as possible.

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