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Police Want to Bar Public Release of Car Registrations

February 3, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Police officer Donald L. Cahill got behind a proposed new law after hearing the brother of a drug suspect declare his intention to blow up the car of another policeman.

The brothers were members of a motorcycle gang. When one was arrested, Cahill, a Price William County, Va., officer told a House subcommittee Thursday, the other wrote down the license number of the arresting officer’s personal car and - with the help of state officials - quickly tied it to a name and address.

″The ‘narc’ he referred to was my partner,″ Cahill said in recalling the 1980 incident. The biker ″was not allowed to follow through with his intentions.″

Cahill, representing the Fraternal Order of Police, was one of several witnesses before the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights who urged passage of a law restricting release of personal information about the owner of a car.

The Fraternal Order of Police is hearing often from officers around the country that because of the ease of tracing license numbers, they have ″feared for the safety of their families as most of their time was spent away on the job.″

The subcommittee is considering legislation that would prohibit motor vehicle departments from disclosing personal information about a licensee, unless there is a specific, approved reason for doing so.

A similar provision was included in a comprehensive anti-crime bill that passed the Senate last year, and could be included in the House’s crime package this year.

″Much to my surprise, I found out that in 34 states, anyone can walk into the ... (department of motor vehicles) and for a small fee, and in some cases nothing at all, provide a person’s license plate number and walk out with that person’s name and address,″ said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. James P. Moran, D- Va.

Moran told the subcommittee that the information still would be available to reporters, private investigators, government agencies, automakers needing information for recalls, businesses trying to verify personal information and in research activities.

Lists of licensed drivers still could be sold to marketing companies - a major money maker for some states - but drivers would be given the chance on their registration applications to have their names deleted.

Richard A. Barton, a senior vice president of the Direct Marketing Association, testified that marketing firms believe the bill is too restrictive.

Direct mail and telephone marketers have no objection to preventing individuals or companies from obtaining information on specific individuals from their license numbers, he said.

But he added, ″forcing state DMV’s to implement an opt-out system on the federal government’s terms and timetable would push states to cease making the lists available.″

David Beatty, public affairs director for the National Victim center, said the legislation is especially important for women trying to hide from abusive spouses.

He told of a New Mexico woman who tried to escape her violent husband. A friend from Texas agreed to let the victim move in with her, but when she came to pick up the battered woman, the husband copied down the Texas license number.

″With a call to the Texas DMV, Sara’s abuser knew Sara’s address before she had even arrived,″ Beatty said.

The man harassed his former wife in her new home and has access to her new license number.

″Sara wonders if she and her son will ever live free of fear,″ Beatty said.