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Modem Operandi : O.C. investigators and data centers are thriving in the age of electronic information. But, fearing loss of privacy and safety, some victims' rights groups and lawmakers are pushing to restrict such access.

April 24, 1994|BRAD BONHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In February, private investigators joined journalists in testifying at congressional hearings on a House resolution, the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1993, that would place limits on the release of motorists' addresses by DMV personnel in all 50 states. It would allow motorists the chance to request that their personal data be withheld from marketers and other private individuals.

McClain testified that investigators should be able to maintain their access to the DMV data. The bill, similar to legislation introduced in October by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), was written "under the premise that it will improve personal privacy, but it penalizes people who use them for lawful purposes," McClain said.

After those hearings, the resolution was rewritten to provide investigators with access similar to what they now have in California. It passed a House vote Wednesday as an amendment to the combined House and Senate crime bill and is scheduled to come before both houses for a final vote by mid-May.

Last week in California, a bill to restrict public access to voter registration records was approved by the Senate Elections Committee and sent to the Appropriations Committee.

Investigators vow to keep fighting for their right to access public records.

"There are plenty of laws, such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, already on the books to take care of civil and criminal abuses," McClain said. "Once you start closing public records, it's the nose of the camel in the tent. The databases will eventually dry up. You will have a more closed society, like China or Russia."

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