DVLA has the statutory functions of licensing and registering vehicles. As part of that responsibility we are duty bound to protect the privacy of motorists whose details we hold. However, we are also able, in certain circumstances, to provide information to those who have a legitimate right to receive it.
In all matters regarding data release we act responsibly and in accordance with legislation, while also seeking to make a positive contribution to motoring and society.
Supporting law enforcement
All vehicles that are, or have been, used on the road are required to be registered with DVLA and clearly display their registration mark. This makes it possible to trace the keeper of any vehicle used in a manner that does not comply with road traffic and other regulations, or causes loss or damage to any third party, allowing the appropriate action to be taken. The release of information about vehicles and their keepers for such purposes is long established and pre-dates the existence of DVLA.
Data Protection and the Road Vehicles Regulations
Regulation 27 of the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) Regulations 2002 provides for the release of information from DVLA’s vehicles register to the police and also to local authorities. The regulation allows us to release data to private or public sector organisations providing they can demonstrate ‘reasonable cause’ to have it and the Data Protection Act does not operate to prevent disclosure of the data where this is done consistently with the data protection principles.
What is reasonable cause?
Reasonable cause is not legally defined. In DVLA’s view it relates in general to incidents with liability involving the vehicle such as road safety, events occurring as a consequence of vehicle use, the enforcement of road traffic or other legislation and the collection of taxes, although this list is not exhaustive.
On the basis of reasonable cause we respond to requests for information from organisations as diverse as private car parking enforcement companies, solicitors, finance houses and property management companies, as well as public sector organisations undertaking law enforcement activities.
Safeguards to prevent misuse
Following a review of the system for data release, in 2006 the Department for Transport (DfT) announced stringent new safeguards. These included provisions to protect vehicle keepers from misuse of personal information, clear and robust complaint procedures where misuse has been alleged, and assurances that those who demonstrate reasonable cause can access data where there is a breach of criminal, civil or contract law.
When reasonable cause has been demonstrated, information is disclosed on the condition that it will only be used for the requested purpose and that the recipient will protect its confidentiality. It is an offence under Section 55 of the Data Protection Act to obtain information under false pretences or to use it for any purpose other than that originally stated.
Reassuringly, we conduct audits of organisations to ensure that their information requests are appropriate and we also investigate allegations of data misuse. Any evidence of abuse is referred to the Information Commissioner for further investigation and possible prosecution.
A balanced approach
All manual applications are looked at individually to ensure that they meet the reasonable cause criteria. Organisations and companies that request data via a secure electronic link must first serve a six month probationary period making manual requests only. Strict contractual terms detail when information may be requested and how it can be used. When we do release data it is always for a specified purpose. The approach seeks to balance the need to protect the motorist whilst ensuring those with reasonable cause are provided with the legitimate right to receive it.
Car parking enforcement companies can generally prove reasonable cause when they need to trace the keeper of a vehicle that does not comply with parking conditions. Similarly, land owners would have great difficulty enforcing their rights if motorists ignored parking conventions. In such instances, if requests for information were refused, land owners could argue that DVLA was denying them the ability to seek redress and it is likely that DVLA would be challenged through the courts.
Not for profit
Although regulations allow us to charge a fee to cover the processing costs of providing information under the reasonable cause provision, we are not authorised to make a profit from such activities. The charging of a reasonable fee prevents the costs of requests being borne by the tax payer. DVLA does not sell personal data for profit.