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By W. Gardner Selby July 31, 2015

Abbott vow to leash sale of personal data wasn't legislative winner in 2015

Stumping for governor, Greg Abbott told a Corpus Christi audience he would champion a change in law barring government from selling a person's personal information without permission.

"It is time to draw a bright line around your personal privacy and your private information," Abbott said in his prepared remarks, the Associated Press reported in November 2013. "This is your information. It should be given away or sold only with your express approval. I will champion privacy protections that prevent the sale of your personal information unless you expressly agree to it."

Abbott didn't say so, but he may have had in mind a February 2013 news report by a Dallas-Fort Worth TV station stating Texas had yet to amend state law to keep the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles from selling certain information about drivers.

CBS 11 News said that in 2012, the state made $2.1 million selling vehicle registration information to nearly 2,500 agencies or businesses such as towing companies, collection agencies, insurance companies, hospitals, banks, schools, city governments and even private investigators.

CBS 11 News said a federal law, the Driver Privacy Protection Act, permits businesses to "use your information for marketing or solicitations if the state has obtained your consent. That means," the story said, "some drivers can opt in or out of these databases. Problem is – Texas didn't adopt that portion of the law," the station said. "So, drivers in the Lone Star State are stuck."

We asked Abbott's office if lawmakers acted on this campaign promise in the 2015 regular session and didn't hear back. Separately, we didn't spot instances of Abbott talking up privacy. It was not part of his February 2015 state-of-the-state address.

Our search of Texas Legislative Council records and an email replying to our inquiry from Adam Shaivitz, spokesman for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, helped us spot a couple of measures seemingly aligned with Abbott's promise. Both were introduced during the 2015 legislative session without further action.

Senate Bill 1208, authored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would have barred agencies from selling personal information about a person obtained by the agency in connection with a motor vehicle record unless the agency had obtained the person's written consent and also confirmed the identity of the person purchasing the information. The proposal also barred an authorized recipient of personal information from reselling it.

Kolkhorst also filed SB 672, requiring that before an agency sells information that alone or with other information identifies an individual, it must get the identified individual's written consent. Also, the entity buying the information would have been required not to resell it, the proposal said. Another failed Kolkhorst measure, SB 1209, would have barred a state health and human services agency from selling personal information without a person's consent.

House Bill 3443 by Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, would have required each agency selling or offering to sell information "that alone in conjunction with other information identifies an individual" to develop and post a policy about that. Her bill cleared a House committee before dying.

We're marking this an Abbott Promise Broken.

Promise Broken – The promise has not been fulfilled. This could occur because of inaction by the executive or lack of support from the legislative branch or other group that was critical for the promise to be fulfilled. A Promise Broken rating does not necessarily mean that the executive failed to advocate for the policy.

Our Sources

News story,"Greg Abbott calls for greater privacy protections," the Associated Press, posted online Nov. 12, 2015 (Austin American-Statesman website)

News story, "CBS 11 Investigates: State Sells Personal Information & You Can't Opt Out," CBS 11 News, Feb. 11, 2013

Legislation, Senate Bill 672, SB 1208, SB 1209, House Bill 3443, 2015 Texas legislative session, Texas Legislative Council (accessed July 28, 2015)

Email, Adam Shaivitz, public information officer, Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, July 28, 2015

Email, Lauren Willis, director of communication, Office of the Texas State Comptroller, July 28, 2015

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