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DMV data drives protest

A Web site listing driver records is drawing criticism and raising questions about Internet access to personal information.

A controversial Web site listing all motor vehicle records in the state of Oregon has raised questions about Internet access to personal information.

The site, launched by Aaron Nabil, a computer consultant in Portland, has temporarily suspended listing vehicle owners' names, license numbers, birthdates, addresses, and title information. Nabil obtained the information from the state's Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division (DMV), which must make drivers' records public upon request under a 1973 law.

Nabil paid a little more than $200 for the division's entire database and posted the information to the Web, reportedly in the interest of keeping neighborhoods safer from speeding and careless drivers. "The law allows only to charge what it costs us" to make the DMV database available, said Mac Prichard, public affairs manager at the state's Department of Transportation, which oversees the DMV.

Individual records at any of the state's 62 DMV offices costs $4 apiece, but the entire database can be purchased in bulk for $222. "Oregon law requires us to make it available as public record. This is what the law says now," Prichard said.

The division has been inundated with complaints from irate drivers who mistakenly thought the records were private. The complaints have also reached Oregon's governor, John Kitzhaber, who says privacy may be more important than public disclosure of driver information. He has pledged to ask the Oregon legislature to study the issue during its 1997 session.

The question of access to public records is "really a broader issue than the DMV" making its records available, Prichard said. "In almost every [state legislative] session, access to records comes up. Some want records to remain private, others want to know what the government is collecting and want access to that information. How that's resolved is up to the legislature."

Some states have amended or rescinded public disclosure laws in the interest of protecting privacy. California took steps to restrict access to driver records after the 1989 murder of an actress by a deranged fan who obtained her address from motor vehicle records. Most of their vehicle registries, though, can be searched on the Internet Department of Motor Vehicles.

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