States Now Giving Feds Your Personal Data Without Warrant

Virginia is using data collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles to create a master database of state residents. The idea is that this will make it easier for state agencies to correctly identify residents and prevent fraud.

But with every increase in convenience and security comes a price, as Robert Phillips, professor of information technology at Radford University, explained.

“As more and more data are put online, the potential for the data to be accidentally or maliciously exposed increases,” he said. “Almost every month there is a report of private information for thousands of individuals being compromised because of security weakness at a government agency or private company.”

That concern may be especially noteworthy in light of information from Sam Nixon Jr., Virginia’s chief information officer. In 2012 alone, Nixon said, the Virginia Information Technologies agency blocked more than 110 million cyber attacks on Virginia’s data networks — that’s hundreds of thousands of cyber attacks per day.

What accountability measures are needed to ensure data shared between government agencies are handled responsibly?

The Old Dominion isn’t the only state to use DMV records for non-driving-related purposes. The Washington Post found that facial-recognition technology is used in the drivers-license registries of at least 37 states, 26 of which allow local and federal agencies to search their records.

The database went live on Tuesday, and has been dubbed the Commonwealth Authentication System. The first state agency to use the shiny new database will be the Department of Social Services, in order to make sure residents meet federal Medicaid requirements.

Currently, participation in the Virginia database is voluntary, but Phillips pointed out that programs like this may bring out people’s fear of a police state.

“These kind of initiatives also increase the potential for future government abuse like we have seen recently with both the IRS and NSA,” he said. “It’s the ‘big brother’ fear and suddenly there is some acceleration toward that reality in our society.”