My name is Kevin. I write a newspaper column, which means, if you read this space regularly, you know more about me than you bargained for.
You dont know what kind of car I drive and while I am not ashamed of my ride, Im not going to tell you what it is.
No matter. Someone out there knows. And someone knows what youre driving too.
And heres what neither of us knew, until a few days ago: The Idaho Transportation Department has been pocketing a cool $5.4 million a year selling off this kind of information. When you renew your license or register a vehicle compulsory acts, if you plan to drive legally in the state you are, in so doing, adding to a valuable public database.
A big year for Big Brother? Fairly or unfairly, it inescapably feels that way.
It feels troubling that ITD has been surreptitiously selling off vehicle registration data and other personal information a little-known practice that came to light last week, when Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press wrote about it.
Ultimately, thats my problem with this. Because this has been done so quietly, it feels underhanded.
Even if that isnt the case.
The data can serve several purposes that are in the public interest. It can be used to track down parties in civil or criminal cases, to check on auto insurance status, or to help get the word out on car recalls.
Nothing really Big Brother about any of this.
But as the AP notes, the data also is used by companies that want to research car-buying habits. Heres where the road gets wet and, inevitably, slippery. You dont have to be a conspiracy theorist to see where things might go astray; you need merely be a capitalist.
Its no reach to think that vehicle data would be coveted and could be purloined by a company that wants to pitch me a neato accessory for my car. Its no reach to suggest that, for the public agency, the real money in the information trade comes from selling data to deep-pocketed private business. Theres plenty of temptation, for seller and buyer alike, to shade the rules and compromise personal privacy.
Spokesman Jeff Stratten told the AP that ITD works to enforce the rules on the appropriate use of bulk data. On top of that, he says, companies have a powerful incentive to comply with the law, or risk being cut off in the future.
But as long as ITD is willing to trust the commercial sector to do the right thing, why didnt the agency trust the people for whom it works? Why did ITD seem to act as if the sale of our personal information was somehow none of our business? Why arent Idahoans informed, upfront, that their license and registration information is subject to sale?
They should be.
And not just because its the right thing to do. By publicizing this practice upfront, the people will be better informed and better equipped to report spam and scams to ITD.
So far, Stratten told AP, such complaints have been rare. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now that ITDs data sales practice has come to light, its safe to assume the agency will hear more questions and complaints. And thats a good thing, even if it creates some extra work for ITD staffers.
Information about you, about me, and about us all is a precious commodity. Its value is increasing, just as surely as the value of that aforementioned and unidentified car of mine is depreciating.
I dont expect ITD to walk away from a $5.4 million revenue source that doesnt come from the pockets of taxpayers. I do expect government agencies, including but not limited to ITD, to be transparent in the way it brokers information.
That is, after all, our business.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert