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From the Mailbag:
Can People Look Up My Driver's License on the Internet?

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Dear Urban Legends:

Below is an email I received today. The link goes to a site that claims to be able to research driver's licenses. I know that — in California at least — they are wrong as far as the law is concerned. I don't know what their real goal is, though. This is the email:

My cousin sent me this. This will let you access any drivers license in the US. I thought we had laws against this kind of thing.

http://www.license.shorturl.com/



Dear Reader:

Funny you should mention it. Here's another email I recently received:

Subject: Check your Driver's License

Big Brother has taken away our privacy. All the world can get your information off your drivers license. Check it out!

Check your Driver's License I already removed mine. I suggest you all do the same. Now you can see anyone's Driver's License on the Internet, including your own! I just searched for mine and there it was... picture and all! Thanks Homeland Security! It's unbelievable!!! Just enter your name, city and state to see if yours is on file. After your license comes on the screen, click the box marked "Please Remove." This will remove it from public viewing, but not from law enforcement. Please notify all your friends so they can protect themselves too. Believe me they will thank you for it.

http://www.license.shorturl.com/

Now, there's a home page that would seem to confirm everyone's worst fears about the Internet!

Billed as the website of the "National Motor Vehicle License Bureau," it purports to offer a "free searchable database of over 121 million U.S. driver's license photos and license information."

How can that be?

"The United States B.S. amendment to the Freedom of Information Act enacted on Sept. 3rd, 2004 provides public access to motor vehicle driver's information in an electronic format," the blurb continues. "Under the Motor Vehicle Operator License Identification Act (MOLIA), all US states are required to adhere to the Driver's B.S. statute and store an electronic copy of all valid drivers licenses in their state..."

So, by filling out a simple web-based form, supposedly, any user can search the Bureau's centralized database containing more than 220 million driver's licenses.

There's just one slight hitch: it's a joke, a prank, a parlor trick — it ain't real!

Another reader describes what actually happens when you type in your name and conduct a "search" on the site:

"If you do enter a name, state, town and gender, what comes up is a picture of a grinning monkey and the question, 'You didn't really think you could get someone's driver's license on the Internet, did you?'"
Screen shot of "search results" on so-called
"National Driver's License Records Bureau" website
Truth is, the so-called "Motor Vehicle Operator License Identification Act (MOLIA)" doesn't exist. While there are a few bona fide fee-based websites that provide access to driver's license data from states that allow it "for legitimate purposes," it's not quite this easy to invade other people's privacy from your home computer. Hopefully that will remain the case.

Like most popular prank websites, this one succeeds not only because of its slick design and surface plausibility, but because it plays on people's very real fears — in this case, the fear of privacy invasion. I'm told some people have found this site so upsetting they've written to their Congressmen about it; others are nonplussed and simply forward the URL on to their most gullible friends. Both reactions confirm an old truism among folklorists: people tend to joke about that which is most serious to them. It's one way we express, share, and cope with what scares us.

Security Note:

In answer to folks who have written to me expressing concerns about the possibility that the Web site listed above stores visitors' private information or leaves cookies on their computers, etc., I have checked the source code and found no indication of malicious activity. That could change without notice, however, and there are several other, similar sites out there whose safety I can't vouch for, so proper caution and "safe computing" measures are recommended as a matter of course.

See also: The Funniest Urban Legends We Know


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Last updated: 11/15/11


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