Legislators Opt for Opt-In in Driver Data Bill

The privacy crusade took another step forward last week when a House-Senate conference committee approved the $49.5 billion Senate Transportation Appropriations Bill with an amendment that makes the 1994 Driver Privacy Protection Act opt-in instead of opt-out.

The bill – which at press time was expected to be approved by the full House and Senate and sent to President Clinton in the next few days – will mandate that states require drivers to give specific permission before their information is released for any purpose except law enforcement.

Though it doesn’t tie opt-in to federal appropriations – where states wouldn’t be able to collect federal highway funding if they didn’t adhere to the policy – it allows the government to sue states that don’t comply. However, as in the current DPPA, there is no enforcement mechanism built into the bill, so there is still a lingering question of how it will be enforced.

The bill also was to be implemented as soon as it was signed, but states were granted an extension to have time to prepare for the switch. Implementation could begin June 1, but some states will receive an extension if their legislators have not met by that time.

The DM industry and other groups said the provision will have a devastating effect on the use of drivers’ information. Only a few people are expected to take the steps to allow their information in, and, as a result, there would be too few names to make a list worthwhile.

Richard Barton, senior vice president of congressional affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, said there is still hope because the industry can lobby until June to have the bill switched back to an opt-out provision. He also said South Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin are challenging the current DPPA. The case is expected to be heard in the new session of the U.S. Supreme Court, which begins today.

If the court strikes down the DPPA, then “it will most likely invalidate this action also,” Barton said. “I think there is a good chance that the Supreme Court will [do so].”

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