The Tension Between Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Acts for State Departments of Motor Vehicles

Report No: 91-R32

Published in 1991

About the report:

With the increasing demand for the release of information gathered by governmental agencies, tension has arisen between the desire to disseminate public records and the desire to withhold an individual's personal information. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between the freedom of information acts (FOIA) and the privacy acts with respect to the personal information maintained by state departments of motor vehicles (DMV). First, the general statutory framework of an FOIA is discussed with Virginia's FOIA used as a model. Next, even though state DMVs are not governed by federal FOIAs, federal case law is analyzed because of the large amount of federal litigation in this area and the guidance given by Supreme Court decisions. New York and Massachusetts case law is also analyzed because these states represent the extremes of restricted access and full disclosure, respectively. Finally, Virginia's case law is analyzed in relation to the approaches taken in New York, Massachusetts, and on the federal level. It is noted that state legislative reform is needed to protect individuals from the unwarranted release of their names and addresses. By expanding the definition of "personal information" to encompass facts that can be used to identify a particular individual, private citizens can better be protected against unsolicited mail, telephone calls, and press reports.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Other Authors

Patricia M. Brady

Last updated: December 25, 2023

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