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State of Colorado makes millions off drivers’ personal information

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) —  When you fill out a form at the Department of Motor Vehicles, most of the information you provide is sold to a third party for a hefty state profit.

You didn’t opt-in and you can’t opt-out. Under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, also known as DPPA, it’s legal for the Colorado Department of Revenue to share and sell your information.

13 Investigates asked drivers if they knew this was happening.

“No I had no idea, that’s super weird,” David Jonathon said.

Most people don’t know because the state doesn’t need your permission, according to the law.

“It sounds like I don’t even have an option,” Jonathan said.

Per DPPA, the only personal records that can’t be sold in bulk are your Social Security Number, photo, and medical records.

“The problem is, any other sources, whenever you go to buy things, sells the information as well,” said Jan Romanowski, another Colorado Springs driver.

However, the government is typically held to a higher standard. Through a Colorado Open Records Act request, KRDO asked the state where all of our information is going. The state responded, saying data is typically sold to insurance or towing companies. It can also be sold to marketers, private investigators, attorneys, and even private citizens.

Especially troubling, the Department of Revenue can’t be sure where all of our information could end up. That’s because the state of Colorado sells driver records to a third-party data vendor called Colorado Interactive.

When KRDO asked Colorado Interactive what it does with Coloradans’ information, Colorado Interactive sent us in a circle, directing KRDO back to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Colorado Interactive also pointed out it is a private company with no obligation to respond to the Colorado Open Records Act requests as the government does.

The Department of Revenue also sells driver data to companies and individuals outside of Colorado Interactive. When KRDO requested that paper trail, the state said this:

Unable to get answers from the people selling our data, KRDO reached out to the people who might be buying it. Watts Media, a local marketing firm in Colorado Springs, found Colorado drivers’ data for sale within seconds.

“It should just be a right to know where your data is going,” said Vice President of Watts Media Taylor Watters.

Even Watts Media was surprised at citizens’ inability to opt-out of having their information sold.

“Colorado Interactive definitely has things they are legitimately using this information for,” said Leah Watters, President of Watts Media. “But I think the problem is that we don’t know all that they’re using it for. And because they’re not a government agency, we don’t get to know.”

The sale of your driver information does benefit you in some way. Per statute, all fees collected from DMV data sales are put into the Highway Users Tax Fund, amounting to about $3.4 million over the last five years.

KRDO requested an answer from the state in response to drivers’ privacy concerns. A spokesperson sent 13 Investigates a copy of DPPA, with no further comment.

Right now there is no way to opt-out of this information share. If you don’t want to give up your data to the DMV, driving without a license or expired registration could land you a hefty fine or jail time.

"Editor’s Note: The video shown in this story shows the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's building. Though drivers provide personal information in this setting, the clerk’s office does not have a say in data distribution through the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s office reached out to KRDO after the story aired, with this statement: “The El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office is an different entity from the State. Our office does not divulge any personal data to anyone or any entity. All record searches and/or requests for information are completed through the Dept. Of Revenue.”

KRDO requested to interview with the El Paso Clerk and Recorder’s Office prior to this story airing, but they declined."

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Lauren Barnas

Lauren is an anchor and MMJ for KRDO and 13 Investigates. Learn more about Lauren here.


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