The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has postponed for two months the elimination of bulk sales of driver's license and vehicle records, an official with the agency said Thursday.
The policy change was supposed to happen March 10, but the agency will now wait until mid-May. Department spokesman Bruce Gordon told The Associated Press that it leaves time to implement a new subscription service for big users of the data, who have opposed the change.
The department will eventually require specific queries at $5 per lookup for potentially millions of searches annually. It has said that the change is being done to keep better tabs on who is accessing the information and why. State and local agencies have been under public pressure to change their practices amid concerns that driver data was being accessed for illegitimate purposes even though most high-profile problems have involved government employees.
Companies can now pay a flat rate for daily downloads of the driver and vehicle records. Auto insurance companies use them in determining rates and car manufacturers in alerting vehicle owners of safety recalls.
They and others lobbied Gov. Mark Dayton's office to intervene on the bulk-sales elimination. Gordon said the delay was an "internal decision" by the agency.
Agency officials began alerting companies about the delay after insurers, auto dealers and an attorney for news media went public with warnings that the new system will cost consumers more, lead to slower notification of recalls and harm investigative journalism.
"As a follow-up to the questions and concerns we have received related to this decision, we have reviewed alternative options for meeting the data needs of our business customers while strengthening data security," Driver and Vehicle Services Director Patricia McCormack wrote in a letter dated Feb. 7.
She explained that the new system will debut on May 12 and require users to make look-up requests by driver's license number or by plate or vehicle identification number for cars.
Mark Kulda, vice president of public affairs at the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, said the delay is helpful in assuring no gap in access to data critical for setting premiums.
"The bottom line is that the end users of the data, which have an expressly permitted authorization to use the data both by state and federal law, won't know if it works for them until the state releases more information on exactly how this new system is going to operate," Kulda said.