NewsLocal News


Scanning of driver's licenses causes privacy concerns for some

Posted at 6:03 PM, Feb 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-05 06:36:15-05

NAPLES, Fla. — Fox 4 has some interesting video, going undercover to videotape a 76-year-old man attempting to buy cigarettes at his local Walgreens.

Even though he is clearly over the age of 18, the required age to purchase cigarettes in the state, he is asked to hand over his driver’s license to prove it. The license is then scanned with the same scanner the cashier uses to check out customers.

The Walgreens, at the corner of Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard in North Naples, is like all other Walgreens in the state. Cashiers are now required to scan the back of driver’s licenses or refuse to sell you cigarettes, beer or wine. It's something the store manager, who is called over, confirms. Pointing to a sign confirming as much.

Pamella Seay, a First Amendment attorney and professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, says that is inaccurate. She says, not only is it against federal law, but the only reason to scan a license is to gather information besides age.

The back of a Florida driver’s licenses contain the same information as the front. But it is also legal to add additional informational personal information, all of which could create a very specific profile of who you are.

Ms. Seay says it could show whether or not you are a fisherman or a boater. Have you even been a sexual offender, are you a safe driver, and so on.

Phil Caruso, a spokesman for Walgreens, says the drug store chain only scans the back of customer licenses to verify the customer's age and Walgreens never collects, stores or sells that information. But it has been accused of doing so in the past.

In 2011 the state of California sued Walgreens for selling medical information gleaned from patient prescriptions and, according to the lawsuit, selling that info to dating mining firms which then resold that info to pharmaceutical companies.

Mr. Oister, who was and is involved in several online businesses, believes Walgreens is gathering and selling information for marketing purposes. He points out that after he bought cigarettes at the store he received his usual number of spam emails, but many were from medical supply companies.

Oister calls what Walgreens is doing 'ridiculous'.

About all that private information that may or may not be collected? Attorney Seay says if companies were so inclined they could use what info they collect from your license to retrieve additional personal information, including your birth certificate, social security number and various documents filed with the state.

She says the opportunity is not direct but that could happen.

Again, Walgreens denies collecting, storing or selling any data, but privacy attorney and Ronald Oister remain skeptical. I asked her, in her opinion, why would any company scan the back of your license. She said, marketing purposes, and more likely micro marketing.