DMers Rally to Sway Changes in Driver Data Bill

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The direct marketing industry and other groups are making a concerted effort to change a bill passed in the Senate last week that could have a devastating effect on the use of drivers' information by marketers.

The bill is attached to H.R. 2084, the Senate Transportation Appropriations bill, and would change the 1994 Driver Privacy Protection Act, which allows consumers to opt out of any disclosure of driver's license and motor vehicle data. The new amendment would require drivers to give specific permission before their data is released for any purpose except law enforcement.

Essentially, the bill switches the information from opt-out to opt-in. If states don't adhere to the legislation, they won't be able to collect federal highway funding. Since the measure is in an appropriations bill, it would be implemented immediately.

The $49.5 billion transportation appropriations bill has been turned over to a House-Senate conference committee, where deliberations will resume. The bill is supposed to be passed and signed by President Clinton before Oct. 1, when Congress' Fiscal Year 2000 begins, but insiders said it may be extended with a 30-day constitutional resolution.

Currently, 30 organizations and companies are meeting with legislators to get the provision changed. The coalition includes the Direct Marketing Association; companies such as The Polk Co., Experian, Equifax and ChoicePoint who buy drivers' license data and motor vehicle data and supply it to automotive marketers, other direct marketers and check guarantee services; state motor vehicle administrators; the National Automobile Dealers Association; automotive companies; insurance dealers; and the newspaper industry.

"The way the bill is written now would essentially close down all motor vehicle lists for almost any use as well as marketing," said Richard Barton, senior vice president of congressional relations at the DMA. "We feel it is a Draconian step that the states don't want because they believe that privacy is adequately protected."

If an opt-in measure is passed, industry officials expect that few people would take the steps to say their information could be used for marketing purposes; and as a result, there would be too few names to make a list worthwhile.

"[This could have] a heavy impact on the data available for direct marketing," said Martin Abrams, vice president of information policy and privacy at Experian, Orange, CA.

Drivers' license data offers very important predictive data for direct marketers, he said. "Everybody uses - in some fashion - drivers' license information. It is probably the best source of exact-age information." Abrams also said information on the types of cars consumers own is important to a variety of marketers. "People who drive a Cavalier probably have different tastes than people who drive a Mercedes-Benz."

Abrams is confident Congress will change the bill's provisions.

"The appropriate choice in the U.S. is opt-out," he said. "I don't think you'll find anyone in the industry who would disagree with that positioning. We've had a very robust public record in the U.S., and Experian is hopeful that this can be changed in the conference committee." n

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