Civil Division - New Castle County
September 17, 1996
Barbara A. Paulin, Director
Division of Child Support Enforcement
1901 North duPont Highway - Biggs Building
New Castle, DE 19720
Re: Use of Social Security Numbers For Child Support Enforcement
Dear Ms. Paulin:
You have asked whether the Division of Child Support Enforcement ("DCSE") may gain access to information, including social security numbers, contained in the records of the Division of Motor Vehicles ("DMV"), and whether DCSE may then transmit that information to the Electronic Parent Locator Network ("EPLN").
SUMMARY OF OPINION
The answers to your questions are affirmative in both instances. Federal law authorizes DCSE to utilize social security numbers in its administration of general public assistance. 42 U.S.C. §405(c)(2)(C)(I). Furthermore, Delaware law permits DCSE to access personal information, including social security numbers, from DMV records and to then transmit that information to EPLN. 21 Del. C. §305.(1)
Our office has previously opined on disclosure of personal information contained in DMV records on two occasions. In a June 12, 1990, opinion we concluded that 42 U.S.C. §405(c)(2)(C)(I) precluded DMV from disclosing Social Security numbers to the Delaware State Police because their intended use of the confidential information did not fall within the permissible uses outlined in that federal statute. Then, in an opinion dated September 27, 1995, we concluded that the Delaware Division of Revenue could utilize Social Security numbers "in the administration of any tax," and that 21 Del. C. §305(2) permitted the Division of Revenue to obtain such information from driver records.
The same federal statute also contains authority for DCSE to access personal information, including social security numbers, contained in DMV records. 42 U.S.C. §405(C)(I) provides:
It is the policy of the United States that any state (or political subdivision hereof) may, in the administration of any tax, general public assistance, driver's license or motor vehicle registration law within its jurisdiction, utilize the Social Security account numbers issued by the Secretary for the purposes of establishing the identification of the individuals affected by such law . . . (Emphasis added.)
DCSE, as the federally mandated IV-D agency charged with establishing and enforcing child support orders in Delaware (42 U.S.C. §652; 29 Del. C. §7930), is authorized to use Social Security numbers in its administration of Delaware's IV-D Program.
The newly amended 21 Del. C. §305, entitled "Privacy Act Governing the Release of Motor Vehicle Driving History and License Records," serves to protect the "the personal information" an individual has provided to DMV from disclosure, except when needed for designated legitimate purposes. Although DMV may have reservations about disclosing social security numbers, the Act focuses its protective sphere on two issues: protecting abuse victims who wish to have their new addresses remain confidential and preventing the dissemination and sale of addresses and personal information for the purpose of mass advertising and solicitation. "Personal information," as defined by the statute, "means information that identifies an individual, including an individual's photograph, social security number, driver identification number, name, address, telephone number, and medical or disability information..." 21 Del. C.§ 305(P)(3) (emphasis added).
The Delaware statute, modeled after the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act, clearly permits DCSE to obtain personal information, including social security numbers, contained in driver records from DMV(3). 21 Del. C. §305(B) provides that
[P]ersonal information may be disclosed only upon proof of the identity of the person requesting the record(s) and sworn representation by such person that the released personal information will be strictly limited to one or more of the following described uses:
(1) For use by any government agency... in carrying out its functions, or any private person or entity acting on behalf of a government agency, in carrying out its functions.
. . .
(4) For use in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitration proceeding in any Federal, State or local court or agency or before any self-regulating body, including the (sic) service of process, investigation in anticipation of litigation, and the execution or enforcement of judgments and orders, or pursuant to an order of a Federal, State or local court. (Emphasis added).
DCSE is clearly entitled to access personal information, including social security numbers, in DMV files as a government agency carrying out its functions, as mandated by both federal and state law, to locate absent parents and establish and enforce child support orders against them. 42 U.S.C. §651, et. seq. DCSE access to such information is further permitted because parent locator efforts are undeniably "investigation in anticipation of litigation," which also justifies access to personal information in DMV files.
While the former §305 did not specifically address a recipient agency's secondary transmission of DMV records, the newly enacted §305 does so directly and clearly. While it generally obligates the recipient of personal information from DMV records to protect the confidentiality of the records, the new law still allows the recipient of personal information from DMV records to redisclose the personal information to a third party for certain designated, limited purposes. 21 Del. C. §305(H) allows the agency obtaining personal information from DMV records to redisclose the personal information, including social security numbers, to carry out the agency's governmental functions and for use in any civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding or for investigation in anticipation of litigation. Thus, Delaware law clearly authorizes DCSE to redisclose to EPLN personal information, including social security numbers, that DCSE obtains from DMV records. Such redisclosure is obviously in fulfillment of DCSE's IV-D mandate to locate absent parents and to establish and enforce child support orders against them.
It should be noted that 21 Del. C. §305(I) also obligates DCSE to enter into a contract with DMV acknowledging DCSE's responsibility to protect personal information it accesses from DMV. The contract must include, at a minimum
(1) the legal basis authorizing access to personal data contained in the [DMV]'s records; (2) purposes and intended uses of this data; (3) designation of data elements needed to satisfy their purposes; (4) agreement not to disclose the information obtained unless permitted by this subsection; (5) other requirements as deemed necessary by the [DMV].
21 Del. C. §305(H). The contract may be unnecessary if the Secretary of Public Safety exempts DCSE from this requirement.
As we understand it, according to the contract between EPLN and DCSE(4), EPLN will use the DMV records, including social security numbers, that it obtains from DCSE to carry out its purpose of locating absent parents to establish and enforce child support obligations. This endeavor constitutes investigation in anticipation of litigation and the information will, obviously, be used in connection with civil proceedings to establish and enforce court orders to pay child support. These are permissible uses under 21 Del. C. §305(B)(1) and (4). Additionally, the contract between EPLN and DCSE (and, presumably, other contracting IV-D agencies) protects individual privacy rights and mandates that the information obtained from EPLN may be used only for the purpose of locating absent parents(5). It is our opinion, then, that DCSE may transmit the personal information it obtains from DMV to EPLN.
There is further reason to believe that DCSE is authorized to transmit to EPLN an extract of the DMV database containing social security numbers and other personal information. EPLN was initially established through a federal grant to develop and implement an Electronic Parent Locator Network among and between the Child Support Enforcement Programs of several states.(6) 42 U.S.C. §653 governs the establishment of a federal parent locator service. It provides that an authorized person shall have access to the social security number, most recent address and place of employment of any absent parent. Included in the definition of authorized persons are any agents or attorneys of any State having a IV-D program who has the duty to seek to recover amounts owed as child support. 42 U.S.C. § 653(c). The Act further allows the information to be accessed from the records of any department, agency or instrumentality of the United States or any State. 42 U.S.C. §653(b). Each state, through its IV-D agency, was then federally mandated to set up a state parent locator service ("PLS"). This service was to use "all sources of information and available records, and . . . the Parent Locator Service in the Department of Health and Human Services." 42 U.S.C § 654(8)(A)-(B). See also 45 C.F.R. § 302.35(a). Furthermore, the IV-D agency is required by federal regulation to locate absent parents and assets whenever necessary to take action. The IV-D agency must "[u]se appropriate location sources such as the Federal PLS; interstate location networks; . . . and State agencies and departments, as authorized by State law, including those departments which maintain records of public assistance, wages and employment, unemployment insurance, income taxation, driver's licenses, vehicle registration, and criminal records." 45 C.F.R. §303.3(b)(1). Therefore, the federal government, which controls the use of social security numbers, intended that State IV-D agencies could not only utilize social security numbers and other personal information, but that they could, and should, retrieve this information from motor vehicle records.
For the reasons set forth above, we see no obstacle to DCSE retrieving personal information, including social security numbers, from DMV records and then transmitting that information to EPLN for use in locating absent parents and in establishing and enforcing child support orders.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to call.
Very truly yours,
Peter S. Feliceangeli
Deputy Attorney General
Victoria L. Roe
Deputy Attorney General
Michael J. Rich
1. 21 Del. C. §305 was amended on July 17, 1996. The existing §305 was deleted and replaced in its entirety. 21 Del. C. §305, as recently enacted, brings Delaware law into compliance with the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 18 U.S.C. §2721, which includes the Driver's Privacy Protection Act. This opinion rests on 21 Del. C. §305 as it became effective on July 17, 1996.
2. The 1995 opinion relied on the recently repealed version of §305. That version provided that information in driver records shall be made available to, among others, "governmental agencies when required for their official duties" and "non-governmental agencies which the Division determines has the right to know, for professional or business use only . . ." As noted above, the instant opinion turns on 21 Del. C. §305 as amended on July 17, 1996.
3. Likewise, under the old version of §305, DCSE, as a government agency, was entitled to access personal information contained in DMV records in order to carry out its "official duties."
4. The contract is entitled "Contract Between South Carolina Department of Social Services and Delaware Department of Health and Social Services for Operations of the Electronic Parent Locator Network," and is Contract No. 96-0588-0-0606. It will hereinafter be referred to as "EPLN State Contract."
5. EPLN State Contract, Article III, § C.
6. EPLN State Contract, Recitals.
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