CONGRESS ACTS TO RESTRICT SALE OF DRIVER DATA: DATABASE MARKETERS SAY BILL MAKES COLLECTING INFORMATION MORE COSTLY

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One of the information backbones of database marketing -- the driver's license -- may be lost to marketers as a result of action last week by congressional privacy advocates.

Without a public hearing, language that would allow states to sell information from a driver's license and registration only if specifically approved by drivers was added to a transportation appropriations bill by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Under the measure, states that don't follow along would lose federal highway money.

"States should not be able to sell your personal information to marketers without getting your permission. . . . No one should be able to turn a profit from your personal information without your consent," said Sen. Richard Shelby (D., Ala.), the amendment's sponsor.

RAISING THE STAKES

The new measure, which would take effect next June, also increases the stakes for a U.S. Supreme Court case in which South Carolina is challenging the right of Congress to limit what a state does with driver's license data.

The high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Nov. 10 on the constitutionality of the Driver's License Protection Act, which requires states to give drivers the option of excluding their data from any information being sold. The government is appealing a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturning that law.

Direct marketers said the loss of license data could have several effects. It could make some of the information contained in driver records more difficult and more expensive to obtain, and it could remove one common piece of information used in profiling individuals -- the model and year of vehicle owned.

"Drivers license information is a good source of accurate identifying information and vehicle information," said Mike Quaranta, director of government affairs for Experian, a database marketing company.

THE BIGGEST IMPACT

"Clearly it would have the greatest impact on people marketing to those who own a car -- auto dealers, oil-change businesses, repair shops and motor clubs," he said. But "an individual's choice in cars is also some indication of other things, and a number of marketers [outside the car business] use the information as an indication of lifestyle."

Jerry Cerasale, VP-government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association, said marketers could still obtain much of the data but that tracking it down could be more time-consuming and expensive.

DMA also was upset last week by a Federal Trade Commission educational campaign that warns consumers about fraudulent direct-marketing efforts.

Called Project Mailbox III, the campaign conducted with some consumers groups uses an illustration of a burglar hiding in a mailbox, with the words: "Catch the bandit in your mailbox."

"The title and logo of the program denigrate the entire direct-mail medium," said Patricia Farley, DMA VP-ethics and consumer affairs. "The campaign appears to draw no distinction between legitimate and fraudulent offers."

Jodie Bernstein, the FTC's director of consumer protection, said she hoped to

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