ANNAPOLIS – You’re driving to the office and a red Camaro cuts you off. You’re steamed. Steamed enough to jot down the license tag number.
Later, on your lunch hour, you trot over to the Motor Vehicle Administration with the tag number, determined to track down the culprit. You fill out a short form, hand the clerk $5 (for non-certified information; certified will cost you $10) and presto – you’ve found the name, address, telephone number, driver’s license number and certain other, including medical, information about your target.
Unless the state passes legislation, when the federal Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act takes effect this September, that information will no longer be open to public perusal.
“The state won’t be setting policy, the feds will. The only question is to what extent,” said State Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D- Montgomery, sponsor of a bill that would bring Maryland into conformity with the federal law.
The bill allows individual citizens to prohibit disclosure of personal information in their MVA records to the general public or for marketing, survey or solicitation lists.
Current state law already gives individuals the right to “opt out” of the data pool — in other words, your records are public unless you request otherwise.
If the bill passes, MVA spokesman Ned Kodeck said the agency intends to allow people to “opt in” when they apply for or renew a driver’s license, vehicle title, registration or identification card. In other words, the presumption will be that you want your records kept private.
However, Frosh’s bill also supports 13 exemptions in the federal law covering bankers, insurance companies, private investigators, towing companies and others who use MVA records on a daily basis.
Kodeck emphasized that these businesses would still be able to access needed data. The MVA will develop procedures ensuring that the person seeking a record “meets that exemption requirement,” he said.
For instance, a private investigator would have to present a P.I. license, or a journalist show press credentials, etc.
However, press access is not covered by current exemptions – – neither in the federal law nor the state bill.
James J. Doyle Jr., counsel to the Maryland Delaware District of Columbia Press Association, a newspaper industry group, submitted two amendments that would continue press access to MVA records.
“The fact is that if these amendments don’t pass,” Doyle told the committee, “it would be a loss to both the Legislature and the press.
“But it would also be a loss to the public and their right to know what goes on.”
The MVA estimates it will lose $2.3 million in revenue should the bill pass.
Providing information to businesses, such as bankers, retailers, private investigators and insurance companies through the Direct Access Records subscription program generated $4.8 million for the MVA last year, said Jim Lang, a spokesman. Buyers of MVA lists and over-the-counter inquirers paid another $900,000 in fiscal year 1996.
A nearly identical bill sponsored by Frosh last year cleared the Senate by a vote of 46 to 1 but reached the House of Delegates too close to session’s end for action.
This year, as the federal deadline approaches, lawmakers expect the bill to move out of committee and clear both houses. Del. Gerald J. Curran, D-Baltimore, chairman of the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee where the bill died in 1996, said he foresaw no problems with this year’s proposal “if we get it in a timely manner.” -30-