Court Ruling Will Have 'Devastating Effect'

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Direct marketers said yesterday that the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Driver's Privacy Protection Act will have a "devastating effect" on direct marketing.

As a result of the unanimous ruling -- which confirmed that Congress can protect motorists' privacy -- marketers said they may lose access to age data and other information contained on driver's licenses and motor vehicle records. The decision means the DPPA will have a provision added to it saying drivers must opt-in for states to disclose their personal information and would cut off highway funding to states that fail to comply.

"If the Supreme Court had ruled another way, Congress would have probably gone in and taken another look at the Shelby Amendment and may have watered it down," said Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of the Privacy Journal. "The fact that court upheld the Shelby Amendment, probably means that the Shelby Amendment will be the law of the land."

Steven Hamilton, director of marketing of the transportation business unit at The Polk Co., Southfield, MI, said the ruling will have a devastating effect on the entire DM industry.

"Almost all marketing research companies will not have access to information that will allow them to put together a good sample that they can use to make good marketing decisions," he said. "They will not be able to draw from vehicle registration data, which represents a huge lifestyle indicator -- your vehicle. As a result, marketers, regardless of whether they are in the auto business or not, will not be able to pull samples on the cars that people drive."

Hamilton said the decision will increase the amount of junk mail sent and companies will have to shoot in the dark to reach their target audience. As a result, their marketing costs will increase, which, ultimately, "may be reflected in the cost of cars," he said.

Congress still can make changes to the Shelby Amendment before it is implemented, and officials at the Direct Marketing Association are pressing for a full airing on the matter this spring. DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen said an array of marketers -- from the armed services, who rely on motor vehicle information for recruitment, to the huge auto accessories mail-order marketplace -- will be severely hurt if the Shelby Amendment takes effect.

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