April 25, 2001
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The
ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter of March 15. In your capacity as Chairman of the Town of
Deerfield Planning Board, you wrote that:
"There are provisions in our Zoning Ordinance regulating parking and
storage of motor vehicles both seasonal and junk. To determine what
action is appropriate in the case of a suspected violation, the Codes
Enforcement Officer needs to know the vehicle owner, it's
registration, inspection and insurance status."
You added that:
"Calls to the DMV Vehicle Safety Unit, FOIL check, (518) 473-0967,
on March 9, 2001 were a study in frustration. After wandering
through many optional recorded messages, I was left with the Catch
22 situation in which information could be obtained only upon
written application but no mailing address."
You have sought assistance in the matter, and in this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, although the New York Freedom of Information Law generally determines rights of
access to records maintained by entities of state and local government in New York, in this instance,
a federal statute, the Drivers' Privacy Protection Act (18 U.S.C. §2721 et seq.), offers guidance. The
provisions of the Act relevant to the matter state that:
"(a) In General. - Except as provided in subsection (b), a State
department of motor vehicles, and any officer, employee, or
contractor, thereof, shall not knowingly disclose or otherwise make
available to any person or entity personal information about any
individual obtained by the department in connection with a motor
(b) Permissible Uses. - Personal information referred to in subsection
(a) shall be disclosed for use in connection with matters of motor
vehicle or drive safety and theft, motor vehicle emissions, motor
vehicle product alterations, recalls, or advisories, performance
monitoring of motor vehicles and dealers by motor vehicle
manufacturers, and removal of non-owner records from the original
owner records of motor vehicle manufacturers to carry out the
purposes of titles I and IV of the Anti Car Theft Act of 1992, the
Automobile Information Disclosure Act (15 U.S.C. 1231 et seq.), the
Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.), and chapters 301, 305, and
321-331of title 49, and may be disclosed as follows:
(1) For use by any government agency, including any
court or law enforcement agency, in carrying out is
functions, or any private person or entity acting on
behalf of a Federal, State, or local agency in carrying
out its functions...
(4) For use in connection with any civil, criminal,
administrative, or arbitral proceeding in any Federal,
State, or local court or agency or before any self-
regulatory body, including the service of process,
investigation in anticipation of litigation, and the
execution or enforcement of judgements and orders,
or pursuant to an order of a Federal, State, or local
Since the Town would be seeking records from the Department of Motor Vehicles in carrying
out its official governmental functions, I believe that the records sought should be made available
To obtain information concerning the procedure for seeking the records and the fees that may
be charged by the Department of Motor Vehicles, it is suggested that you contact the Department's
records access officer, Ms. Alexandra Sussman. Ms. Sussman can be reached at (518) 474-0875.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Alexandra Sussman