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County clerk decries state’s use of motorists’ personal information

Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs Wednesday said he was shocked to find that the state Department of Motor Vehicles has been selling the personal data that state motorists provide when they apply for driver’s licenses and register their automobiles.

Jacobs called on the state to stop the practice of selling such information to third parties. He said, in an era when consumers have to be conscious about protecting their private information, it is unconscionable to potentially expose them to identity theft and other cyber crimes.

“I think that really is contrary to the core of this office and the sensitive nature of what we do here,” said Jacobs during a news conference at the downtown Auto Bureau office in the Rath County Office Building.

“We need an open investigation on this but, first and foremost, I just want it to be stopped,” he said.

Jacobs said he recently learned about the state DMV’s practice of selling drivers’ personal data from a news report that was aired by a downstate television station. According to that report, he said, the state sells the information it acquires from motorists to insurance companies, courts and other entities that need to verify a motorist’s driving record. The report also claimed that the state disseminates the data so motorists can be notified of auto recalls.

The TV news report said the state last year generated $60 million in sales from the information that motorists divulged. Jacobs speculated that those revenues go directly to the state’s general fund and not specifically to fund repair and maintenance of state roads and bridges. He also said the majority of state DMV funds do not stay in the DMV.

He said $32 million in fees generated by Erie County last year went directly to the state instead of remaining with the local DMV in Erie County.

“It just went into the (state’s) general fund,” Jacobs said.

The county clerk said that, while he reached out to state DMV officials about the practice of selling information received from motorists, no one from the state has gotten back to him.

“The DMV has an immense amount of discretion ... not to do this. This is something that, clearly, (DMV officials) could stop right away,” Jacobs said.

He said he expects the New York State Clerks Association will take up the matter next month and make a formal complaint to the DMV.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the clerks association looked to do a Freedom of Information Act request on the DMV to find out what they have been doing. What information have they been giving, the level of the personal information, how much they’re making,” he added.