Editor's note: Freedom New Mexico Publisher Ray Sullivan discussed Web portals in his column in last Saturday's Quay County Sun. This is Rick Homans' counterpiece.
When an individual comes to the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) to apply for a driver’s license or a vehicle registration, we ask that person to entrust us with a lot of personal and confidential information: a Social Security number, birthdate, address and medical history. Subsequently, we add moving violations, citations and updated identity and medical information.
What many people don’t realize is we are asked daily to release this personal information to all kinds of businesses and government agencies, including insurance companies, employers that hire lots of drivers, law enforcement agencies and courts, and reporters. Because so much of the information in our database is confidential and sensitive, there are strict state and federal laws that govern what we can release, and to whom.
MVD could process all these requests manually, and in accordance with the law, but the commercial users wouldn’t be satisfied. They need the information right away and that requires a sophisticated and expensive database, with security features and payment options.
New Mexico taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for this customized service. Instead, we have issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to select an experienced database company to offer a user-funded Web portal. The portal will provide the option of immediate access, while adhering to strict state and federal privacy laws.
The primary law that governs what’s private and what’s public is the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), and the accompanying state law. The law requires us to obtain written agreement from all “eligible users,” not to release confidential information to others, and to use the information only for the use “authorized” by DPPA and the state.
On the other hand, the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act governs the release of information. This act requires us to respond within 15 days to requests for public information, including driver and vehicle records. The law also requires us to withhold information that, by law, is considered “private.” We charge 25 cents a page for this information.
For at least the last six years, the MVD has had in force contracts with six companies that purchase and resell personal data. These contracts expire this spring and cannot, by law, be renewed. The MVD transmits its entire database to these companies monthly, and updates them daily. We believe this arrangement is a ticking time bomb that could result in a major security breach — which would cause havoc to our primary customers, New Mexico citizens.
At the same time, we recognize commercial businesses must have timely access to this personal information — or else we could witness a major disruption of the insurance industry, or a public safety disaster because driver records couldn’t be monitored daily.
With all this in mind, I am pursuing the following two-pronged strategy to provide access to public records.
l First, in regards to public records access, we will continue to follow the Inspection of Public Records Act. Even though we can, by law, charge up to $1 a page, we only charge 25 cents. We also accept e-mail requests. Some people have suggested the MVD is trying, through this new portal, to limit the Inspection of Public Records Act. This accusation is blatantly false and incorrect.
l Second, the Department has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to engage one company to operate a commercial Web portal to provide optional access to the MVD database. We will require the selected company to provide a fully transparent security system that verifies all users, confirms eligibility, and that tracks the use of all data from the MVD database. Our intent is to defuse the ticking time bomb.
Some have suggested MVD doesn’t have legal authority to set up this Web portal. Actually, state law specifically permits the MVD database to be resold, as long as the state collects a “royalty” on the sales and uses the money to support the MVD operations. That is our plan.
We are committed to meeting two of our most important missions: protect the confidential and personal information of our customers, and make sure our records are as open and public as they can be. We believe the new portal will provide a new level of customer service and create more channels to access public information.
Rick Homans is cabinet secretary for New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department. Contact him at: Rick.Homans@state.nm.us