October 1, 2008
“NEXT-OF-KIN” NOTIFICATION DATABASE IN OHIO
By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst
You asked for information on the “next-of-kin” notification database recently implemented in Ohio under which the drivers' license files are used to maintain names of those the licensee identifies to be notified in case of an accident that incapacitates the license holder. You wanted to know what privacy issues might there be with such a program, whether Connecticut has considered creating such a program legislatively, if such a program could be implemented here, and what some implementation issues could be.
We found two such programs in the country. One is the Ohio program which became operational in September 2008 based on legislation passed in 2007. The other program is in Florida. It was created administratively by the Florida Department of Highways and Motor Vehicles rather than by law. The Florida system began operating in October 2006. By July 2008 it contained more than one million emergency contact entries. The two programs are not strictly “next-of-kin” notification systems in that an adult can enter the contact information for anyone, not just a relative.
In order to address concerns over privacy of personal information, several areas must be addressed for this type of program. These areas include: (1) making program participation voluntary, (2) assuring that only the appropriate person can enter or modify contact information in the system by providing sufficient access security features, (3) limiting the information collected on emergency contacts, (4) limiting access to the contact information to law enforcement entities, and (5) providing some type of protection from disclosure of the information as a public record.
We found no legislative proposals during the last five Connecticut legislative sessions that would have established an emergency contact notification system. However, having such a system might help police implement at least part of the mandate of a 2008 legislative act that requires them to make reasonable efforts to identify and notify a member of the family or household of a person killed in a motor vehicle accident “as soon as practicable” after the accident.
Connecticut law enforcement agencies can access certain driver license and vehicle registration information from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) by computer link through the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing System. If emergency contact information were to be linked to the DMV licensing files, it appears possible to provide it to law enforcement personnel though this system. The collection portal for this contact information could be either DMV or, since the primary use of this information would be for police, through the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The DMV's current computer system has some severe limitations that would currently make it difficult to keep this information, but the system is about to undergo a major upgrade so it might be possible for DMV to consider adding this capacity to the modernized system.
There would be some costs associated with developing this system whether DMV or DPS was the portal. Making the system entirely electronic would probably help to minimize the costs. We would suggest that you contact the Office of Fiscal Analysis to assist you in estimating costs once you have decided whether to pursue this concept.
Both the Florida and Ohio programs came about as a result of tragic traffic accidents. In both states, the relatives of people who were fatally injured but not killed instantly were unable to spend time with their relatives during their last hours due to the difficulty police had in identifying who to notify. In Florida, relatives of the victim contacted a state legislator who initially proposed to have emergency contact information put on drivers' licenses. When this was determined to be impractical, the victim's mother, the state legislator, and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles worked cooperatively to create the notification database. Florida residents are not charged to enter their contact data into the system. Participation is strictly voluntary, but the state agency encourages residents to take advantage of the program. The program is available to anyone who holds a valid Florida driver's license or non-driver identification card.
The Florida system can only be accessed through the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website. Anyone who does not have Internet access must use the system through a public library. The interface is shown below
It requires only the person's driver's license or identification card number and date of birth. Someone who is at least age 18 can list relatives or friends as emergency contacts. Someone under age 18 may list only parents or primary guardians. The contact information entered into the system can only be accessed through the Driver and Vehicle Information Database, which is a secured database through which state and local law enforcement agencies get driver and vehicle information.
The Ohio program began operation on September 8, 2008. It was created by legislation in 2007 (HB 392). The law specifies that anyone who has a valid Ohio driver's license, temporary instruction permit, or non-driver identification card may participate in the system. It explicitly limits accessibility of the emergency contact information to criminal justice agencies and employees of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The emergency contact information is explicitly declared not to be a public record for purposes of Ohio's records disclosure law.
The legislation requires the system to allow someone to submit “at least” one contact person to be notified in case of a motor vehicle accident or emergency situation where the license, permit, or identification card holder dies or is seriously injured or rendered unconscious and unable to communicate with the contact person. The contact person does not have to be the next of kin, unless the applicant is under age 18, in which case it must be a parent, guardian, or custodian. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles has limited applicants to two emergency contacts. The applicant is responsible for any contact information changes or for removing the emergency contact information from the system.
Emergency contact information can be provided either electronically through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles website, or through a hard copy form. To access the system electronically the person must provide his license or identification card number, birth date, the first letter of his last name, and the last four digits of his Social Security number. The applicant must also enter a randomly generated access code. The system interface for the Ohio program is shown below.
The hard copy form requires only the person's name, address, license or card number, and signature. For each contact, the law requires the person's name, address, relationship to the applicant, and at least one phone number.
The registrar of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles has stated that it cost them approximately $60,000 to develop the new system.
Voluntary participation in an emergency contact program is one way to address privacy concerns. Someone need not participate in the program if he or she feels that this might compromise the contacts' privacy. Both the Florida and Ohio programs make this the responsibility of the person applying to have contact information entered into the database. The agencies do not confirm the contacts' willingness to be entered into the system.
Beyond this, and assuming access to the system is primarily or exclusively through an internet portal, security features built into accessing the database would have to be sufficient to make hacking into the system as difficult as possible. As noted above, the Ohio program requires a person's identification number, birth date, the last four digits of the Social Security number, and the first initial of the last name, as well as a randomly generated access code to get into the system to enter or change contact data. That number of features would seem to provide a reasonable level of security that would be similar to what might typically be required to access a bank account.
Another way to limit privacy concerns is to limit the contact information that must be supplied to, perhaps, no more than a name and telephone number. The Ohio program requires a residential address as well. (The legislation required this information.) If contact data is limited to a name and phone number there would be little that could be revealed that would not also be available through public sources such as the telephone directory. However, there may be value in requiring an address as well in case for some reason police needed or wanted to notify the emergency contact in person in instances where they could not make contact by phone.
Ohio addressed the privacy issue in its legislation by exempting emergency contact information from inclusion in its public records law. Florida addressed it slightly differently by amending its driver privacy protection law to specifically allow disclosure of the emergency contact information only to law enforcement agencies.
While it may be possible to implement an emergency notification system in Connecticut that is similar to the Florida and Ohio programs, the DMV's current computer system presents somewhat of an impediment. Currently, driver license and vehicle registration information from the DMV's databases is available to law enforcement agencies through the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing System (COLLECT). The State Police administer the COLLECT system. The computer link between COLLECT and the DMV license files conceptually could serve as the instrumentality for an emergency notification system. Thus, there would appear to be two ways such a system could be set up. DMV could be made responsible to collect emergency notification information and add it to the license data police can already access through COLLECT. Alternatively, since the database would be maintained primarily for use by police agencies, DPS could be made responsible for setting up the system. In the latter case, DPS would probably have to develop a way to use its access to the DMV license files through COLLECT to verify the name and license or identification card numbers people using the system could enter.
However, the current DMV computer system is quite old and is limited with respect to its capacity to accept additional information into its limited data fields. Adding new items of information, such as names and phone numbers of emergency contacts, into this antiquated system could be a problem. Nevertheless, it could be an opportune time to consider such an initiative because DMV is apparently currently developing a Request for Proposals for a multi-million dollar upgrade to all of its computer systems to be implemented over the next few years. Since this upgrade is underway, consideration of the possibility of including the capacity to have emergency notification data as part of the upgraded system might be possible.
Both DMV and DPS have some experience with setting up information exchange through the internet. With respect to DMV, under the new law governing 16- and 17-year-old drivers, police can issue summary license suspensions for certain serious traffic violations and confiscate the license for 48 hours. DMV has set up a system for police to report these suspensions through completion and electronic submission of an on-line form. The second example of DMV establishing electronic information exchange is in the area of public service license suspension information. Companies that employ drivers with public service licenses, such as taxi companies, livery services, and school bus companies, can now check the status of their employees' licenses by computer. To do this, the companies obtain a Personal Identification Number (PIN) from DMV. By entering this PIN and an employee's license number into the DMV webpage, the employer can verify if the employee's license is under suspension or revocation.
DPS is responsible for maintaining the registered sex offender database and providing this information to the public through its website.
PA 08-67, in part, establishes a responsibility for the police officer or agency investigating a motor vehicle accident in which someone is killed to “use reasonable efforts to identify and notify a member of the person's family or household of the fatality as soon as practicable after the accident.” The law also requires the Police Officer Standards and Training Council to establish a uniform policy for identifying and
notifying such a person's family or household. Having an emergency contact or next-of-kin database might make implementing this requirement easier for police and more expedient for the families of victims.
There likely will be implementation costs whether DMV or DPS is made the portal for emergency contact information. While our office cannot provide such cost estimates, the Office of Fiscal Analysis may be of some assistance once a specific proposal is formulated.
One way to minimize these costs might be to use the Florida model which requires submission of emergency contact information exclusively thorough the internet. In this way, the costs of handling hard copy forms and entering the data manually by state personnel might be avoided. Costs associated with providing the contact data to police would not appear to be prohibitive, since the database would probably only have to be linked to the existing COLLECT system. There also could be some agency costs associated with transaction fees for use of the state data system.