State law restrictsBy Ian Lind
access to used-car
information, panel told
Hawaii's restrictions on access to information can leave island used-car buyers in the dark about possible dangers, a representative of Polk Co. says.
Ted Hotham, Polk's regional director of government relations, said shoppers in most states can purchase a report disclosing the history of a used car, including whether the vehicle has ever been wrecked, declared a lemon by the manufacturer, damaged in a flood, or considered undesirable for several other reasons.
Polk's Carfax service compiles the information from a number of sources, including motor vehicle registration records compiled by the states.
"People using the service have been saved tens of thousands of dollars because they could do an investigation before buying," Hotham said.
But Hawaii law restricts use of registration data to notification of safety-related recalls or statistical reports, making it impossible for island consumers to benefit from the vehicle histories. Hotham said Hawaii law is more restrictive than any other Western state.
Hotham's comments came during a public hearing at the state Capitol sponsored by the Office of Information Practices to gather comments on whether additional controls are needed on the use of personal information for commercial purposes.
Common Cause director Larry Meacham criticized the increasing use of personal data for marketing or other commercial purposes without paying or even gaining permission from the individuals who provide the information.
Businesses recognize the value of consumer information and should be willing to pay for its use by giving price discounts or paying a fee, Meacham said.
State Rep. Ed Case said the state Constitution guarantees the right to privacy, including the individual right to control what information about yourself is communicated to others.
Case said the use of personal information is necessary for business, but "we can and should not tolerate the use of such information purely for money-making motives."
"So, if a bank needs individual financial information to make an informed judgment on loan risk, most would regard that as legitimate. But if that same bank then sells that information simply because someone else is willing to pay for it, most would not agree with that use.
"We're not just talking about the first user that collected the information, but the second, third and fourth who may be using it for something quite different than what it was collected for in the first place."
Hotham said public discussion of privacy issues is long overdue.
"I applaud efforts like this," Hotham said. "Information is the lifeblood of commerce, and if you abuse it, you pollute the lifeblood."
The hearing continues Tuesday morning when testimony will be taken by videoconference from the neighbor islands. Those wishing to testify should contact OIP at 586-1400 to register.
Hawaii Revised Statutes