Is it Legal for a Civilian to Run Someone’s License Plate in the State of Texas?
There has been a debate online in Texas for a long time about the legalities of posting someone's license plate online. License plates are out in the public eye for all to see on a daily basis. When you travel on a toll road, there are cameras that take a picture of your license plate so the toll company can send you the bill. Police need to be able to see your license plate to identify if the vehicle is stolen or if warrants are attached to the person driving the vehicle. But can Joe Blow citizen get information from that license plate for their personal use? I found the answer to that question below.
What prompted me to dig into this question?
There was a post on the Tyler Rants, Raves and Recommendations Facebook group where someone was complaining about someone's else's driving. The person complaining posted a picture of the vehicle with their license plate visible. A commenter to the post took offense to this because they believed anyone could get that person's personal information now. The commenter said that "Anyone can go have his plate run for $6" and that's it's as simple as going to the DMV and having it done.
Time to Go Down the Rabbit Hole
We see it in police dramas on TV and even in movies where a police officer will ask if someone got the license plate of a vehicle. Police will then use that license plate number to "run the plate" and get the information of suspect. There is a scene in the movie Gone in 60 Seconds where Donny goes to the DMV to get a print out of cars so they can build their list of cars to steal. He has to pay a fee per car to get that information.
What is legal and what isn't?
In the case of the police, it is legal for them to get personal information from "running a plate." That information includes:
- Name of the registered vehicle owner.
- Address of the registered vehicle owner.
- What state the car is registered.
- Has the car been reported as stolen.
- If the license plate matches the car's registration.
- In some states, police can see if the vehicle has valid insurance.
A civilian, however, can't just walk into the DMV or search online and get someone's personal information from a license plate like in the scene from Gone in 60 Seconds. There is a form that can be filled out at the DMV to request someone's information from their license plate. However, the process takes about four weeks and 99% of the time, it will be denied unless the circumstances actually warrant the information to be released. There is a fee that you won't get back if the request is denied (fairpunishment.org).
What makes "running a plate" illegal for civilians?
It is a federal law called the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, or DPPA. The law has been in effect since the mid 1990s. Before this law, it may have been possible to go to the DMV and look up someone's personal information based off of their license plate. Some people have probably done that and that's why they believe it can still be done.
Is it legal for a civilian to "run a plate" in Texas?
No, we as civilians, cannot legally 'run a plate' in Texas.
What about those websites that offer to look it up?
Most likely, those websites are a scam, and will steal your personal information while using it or will give you the wrong information. DO NOT use those sites thinking you can get this information, you will compromise the security of your personal information.
Can you post someone's license plate online or can it be recorded in a video?
Yes, you can. Same goes for recording video from, say, a dash cam. You see vehicles and their license plates in the background of news reports, too. There is no requirement to blur out a plate.
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