Florida Bill to Prevent Identity Theft from Crash Reports Narrowly Passes Its First Committee Stop

A bill designed to curb the theft of personal information from people that are involved in car crashes has made a narrow victory in its first committee. The measure in question SB 1614 would make the current 60-day exemption for personal information belonging to those in traffic accidents and those who are ticketed from being placed in public record permanently.

According to the bill’s sponsor, this measure is one of the best means available to cut down on the growing epidemic of identity theft in the wake of auto accidents, and the Senate Transportation Committee reflected its agreement in a 4-3 vote. Though the measure passed, it faced considerable pushback from advocates of press freedom. Others have voiced support for confronting the thieves preying on the public information released after vehicle accidents.

Currently, unless it meets certain exemptions provided in the 1994 Driver Privacy Protection Act personally identifying information belonging to those in car crashes and those who receive traffic tickets are exempt from disclosure for 60 days. The exemptions to this rule include those directly involved in a crash as well as all involved insurance agents, attorneys, and the media. However, after the 60-day protections expire, this information, including the involved parties’ dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, and insurance policy numbers, can be made public.

Once it is released, this information is ripe for the picking by identity thieves who use it to access bank accounts and incur new debts. Worst of all, a driver’s license number can be used to make fake IDs which can be used to impersonate individuals during traffic stops and other encounters with law enforcement.

This bill would extend the 60 days exemption period to be permanent and would add two more exempt parties, which are the city traffic operations and the Department of Health. However, the media’s exemption will be narrowed and would only allow for short reports, including only limited information concerning the accident. This would include those involved, the vehicles, the identities of the responding officers, as well as any citations that were issued or arrests made.

Due to the significantly reduced media access in the wake of accidents and traffic citations, many freedom of press advocates have opposed the bill arguing that it would prevent citizens from being informed about events in their community. As a result, the bill still may face a tough fight in its following two committee stops. The House version of the bill HB 1121 is still waiting to see its first committee stop, but if successful, both versions of the bill would go into effect on July 1st.

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