The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Division of Motor Vehicles for implementing a database designed to identify uninsured motorists without first establishing any regulations to prevent the improper disclosure of drivers’ personal information, avoid mistaken registration revocations, or to otherwise ensure that the program is properly administered by the private out-of-state company contracted to run the program.
A state law enacted in 2013 established the database, designed to compile information from insurance companies about the identities of insured drivers and information from the DMV about registered motor vehicles. A third party vendor matches the information in order to identify and notify vehicle owners who do not appear to have insurance. Residents must obtain or prove they have insurance within a specified period of time or else their registration will be revoked. Despite being explicitly required to do so under the statute, however, the DMV has proposed no regulations whatsoever to address key issues over implementation of the database.
Today’s lawsuit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Albin Moser, notes that while insurance companies and the DMV are already sending personal information about Rhode Island drivers to the third party contractor, the DMV has yet to draft, publicly share, or hold a public hearing to discuss regulations establishing privacy safeguards, notification procedures, and other necessary procedures. The failure to establish these regulations is a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and the state law that established the database, according to the complaint. The suit asks the court to stop the implementation of the Uninsured Motorists Identification Database until appropriate regulations are adopted with public input.
The ACLU will be seeking a temporary restraining order this week against implementation of the program, as the first wave of notices to drivers who purportedly don’t have insurance is supposed to be sent out by the contractor as soon as next week.
The lead plaintiff in the case is ACLU of RI policy associate Hillary Davis, who often testifies on state regulations and civil liberties issues relating to privacy and technology. She said: “Any use of personal information must be thoughtfully and publicly examined. That the DMV has failed to engage in a public rule making process about this database, flouting the responsibility put upon them by the General Assembly, is alarming in its carelessness. Though the impact on Rhode Island drivers can be tremendous, the only discussions as to the database’s use and security precautions have been between the DMV, the insurance companies, and the third-party vendor that stands to profit from the use of Rhode Islanders’ personal information. This oversight must be corrected before the program goes into effect, not after Rhode Islanders find their information compromised or their vehicle registrations revoked.”
ACLU attorney Moser added: “The DMV needs to explain to Rhode Island residents how it and the private contractor are going to keep residents’ personal information secure. The DMV also needs to explain to how it and the contractor are going to manage the program so that it is accurate and does not result in residents’ motor vehicle registrations being jeopardized by administrative error.”
The ACLU’s concerns about implementing the program without any public standards are not without justification, as it has sued the DMV a number of times in the past over regulatory lapses that have adversely affected motorists. In 2012, for example, the ACLU successfully sued the DMV after it refused to reinstate a person’s driver’s license based on a “policy” that appeared nowhere in the agency’s rules and regulations. In 2010, the ACLU successfully settled another case after the DMV advised thousands of motorists that their license and registration would be suspended due to alleged unpaid fines that were the result of incidents occurring on “00/00/0000.”