WASHINGTON - Tighter federal restrictions on state motor vehicle and driver records could boost the cost of developing new cars and trucks, says Steven Hamilton, director of marketing for transportation at Polk Co.
Polk of Southfield, Mich., is one of the companies that uses state vehicle and driver records as their raw material - to be analyzed, repackaged and sold to clients.
And so Polk wants to lead a crusade against the tightening federal clamps on the information. It expects direct marketing organizations and the automobile industry to be among its allies, Hamilton said.
But so far major automobile industry groups are showing little enthusiasm for a public fight over the right to privacy.
Among the latest developments:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 upheld a 1994 federal law giving people the right to delete their records from the data that states sell to companies like Polk.
States are starting to gear up for compliance with a still tougher federal law that begins taking effect in June. It cuts off sales of the data for marketing purposes unless each motorist specifically grants his or her state the right to release information.
In other words, not only has the 1994 law been upheld by the highest court, but its key provision is being converted from an opt-out to the far higher hurdle of an opt-in.
Hamilton said car companies know their own customers, but they need information about competitors' customers, and they need research results to help them develop new products.
He predicted the inaccessibility of state records will drive up product development costs and will cause companies of all kinds to do more mass mailings instead of targeted solicitations.
That means more junk mail, not less, the opposite of what privacy advocates might want, he argued.
Christopher Tebo, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said NADA members are concerned about tighter clamps on records, but they also understand the rationale for them.
What's more, he said, Congress is unlikely to reverse its support for stricter controls because they are viewed as tools to protect privacy and increase personal safety.
NOT A PRIORITY
Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the issue is not a high priority with carmakers.
Federal officials have assured car companies that the tighter restrictions will not interfere with their ability to contact customers about safety recalls and similar issues, she said.
The Supreme Court, in its ruling last month, overturned lower and appellate court decisions. The justices said a federal law restricting access to state vehicle and driver information is a proper and constitutional regulation of interstate commerce.