Monday, November 28, 2005

Your personal information is for sale - Motorists edition

The Mail on Sunday headline says it all: "DVLA sells your data to criminals"
The Government is selling the names and home addresses of motorists on its drivers' database to convicted criminals, a Mail on Sunday investigation has revealed.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) tells would-be wheel-clampers there is "no problem" with them buying drivers' home addresses - even if they have a criminal record.

Indeed, the two bosses of one clamping firm on the list of companies to whom the DVLA is happy to sell drivers' details are currently serving seven years' jail between them for extorting money from motorists.

The Mail on Sunday has now forced the DVLA to hand over its list of 157 firms which can buy personal information about drivers at £2.50 a time. All the companies need do is tap in a registration plate, and back comes the full name and address of the vehicle's owners.

The dossier shows that details of millions of drivers have been made available to bailiffs, credit control companies, debt collection agencies, property management firms, leisure centres, solicitors - and even one of the world's biggest loan and financial services companies.

A number of other companies on the list appear to be dissolved or simply not to exist.

The revelations, which suggest that the DVLA is in flagrant breach of data protection laws, last night caused a storm of protest, with MPs demanding an immediate end to the practice.
In Ireland the bodies which hold this information are the motor tax offices of each local authority. Queries have to be made by letter, and they charge somewhat more per query at €6. The legal basis for disclosure is Regulation 23 of the Road Vehicle (Licensing) Regulations, 2003:
A licensing authority shall, upon application, supply particulars from the licensing records or the joint licensing records:
(1) upon payment of the relevant amount specified in the Third Schedule to these Regulations, to any person who satisfies the licensing authority that he has reasonable cause therefor
The Regulations don't define "reasonable cause", leaving this up to the judgment of the manager in the relevant local authority. There doesn't appear to be any particular system in place to vet applications for release of these details. There may be scope for an enterprising journalist to put in a freedom of information request to see whether any similar abuses have taken place over here.

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