Safeguarding Your Rights And Your Right To Privacy
by Attorney Ronald M Papell
While the digital age has brought resources to our fingertips for all manner of goods and services it has also ushered in an age of instant information some of which could endanger the safety and security of you or your family. While many people have taken steps to protect themselves against unreasonable invasions of their privacy from solicitors, salespeople and unwanted spam, few people realize that they are unwittingly exposing themselves to invasions of their homes and lives from those who would use technology to commit civil and criminal wrongful acts.
Although numerous agencies, including the DMV, require that you provide your “address” and in some instances your “home” address, you should give careful consideration to the address you provide. While you may not be able to list a post office box, it is not as clear that you cannot list your employment address or the address of your accountant or other professional. Similarly, if you still have a checking account, you should never list your home address on your checks. Doing so tells the person to whom the check is delivered where you live and that you are not at home at the time of the transaction. While vendors cannot require that you provide your address when paying with a credit card under California law, they can ask to look at your driver’s license to confirm that you are the person listed on the credit card. Once again, having your home address on your driver’s license allows anyone intent on wrongdoing to know where you live and potentially to have an accomplice waiting for you when you return home.
While numerous examples can be imagined under which providing your address would be ill advised, some examples may be helpful to make you aware of the possible situations that could arise. As mentioned above, using a credit card is a daily occurrence that could allow a potential wrongdoer to find out where you live. While you need not provide your address, a vendor may ask for your zip code. Directories exist that will allow them to find out your home address with simply your name and zip code! Next time you receive a catalog that you did not request from a store that you did business with, realize that the likelihood is that they found out where you live and for marketing purposes are now going to bombard you with advertising materials. If merchants can do that almost instantly, imagine who else can do the same! Now, consider that you are traveling in a foreign country and you provide information from which your address can be found. The merchant/person now knows where you live and that you are not home and will not be home in the immediate future. Consider for a moment the opportunities that then present themselves to those who would use this information for illicit purposes.
Even the most seemingly innocent transactions can lead to your divulging information to those who would use that information for an improper purpose. The DMV limits access to its files to those who have authorization and post a bond to insure that they do not misuse the information, lawyers commonly have access to DMV records as an example. It should be obvious that hackers have demonstrated their ability to tap into almost any system including government agencies. Imagine that you are driving down the street and someone is following you who is attracted to you or the vehicle you are driving and has the ability to access your DMV records. Such an individual could theoretically be at your home or apartment waiting for you when you get home. A frightening prospect but one that should not be ignored in the new digital age. As with your driver’s license, motorists in California are required to carry their registration in their vehicle should they be asked for it by a peace officer or if they should be involved in an accident. It should go without saying that a parking attendant or valet has only to pop your glove box to know where you live and could, potentially inform an accomplice when you arrived at the restaurant and when you left.
While accidents routinely occur and with more and more frequency due to distracted driving and the use of electronic devices of all kinds, the requirement the information be exchanged at the scene of an accident can also be fraught with potential exposure to criminal conduct. California Vehicle Code section 16025 requires:
(a) Every driver involved in the accident shall, unless rendered incapable, exchange with any other driver or property owner involved in the accident and present at the scene, all of the following information: (1) Driver’s name and current residence address, driver’s license number, vehicle identification number, and current residence address of registered owner. (2) Evidence of financial responsibility, as specified in Section 16020. If the financial responsibility of a person is a form of insurance, then that person shall supply the name and address of the insurance company and the number of the insurance policy. (b) Any person failing to comply with all of the requirements of this section is guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty dollars ($250).
While the foregoing law must be complied with, providing a stranger with you home address may not be advisable. Although technical compliance may not be met by providing your employment address or the address of a lawyer, CPA or other professional, it would be highly unlikely that any violation would be charged assuming that the other parties or their representatives can contact you. At the risk of being an alarmist, it would seem that it would be better to be safe than sorry. Once it is determined that the other party has a legitimate need for your residence address it can always be provided. Typically, however, your residence address has either no bearing on the happening of the accident or is other wise not relevant to the occurrence. Should their be a legitimate purpose to the other parties’ knowing your residence address, your lawyer or other representative can make that determination and then provide the information in a protected or “sealed” fashion so as to avoid any possible misuse of your home address.
So long as you comply with the requirement of providing your driver’s license number and the information concerning your insurance company, a party with a valid claim should always be able to contact you or your insurance company or representative. Needless to say, providing your insurance company information will allow any other party to file a claim and seek whatever remedies they may be entitled to. Providing your personal information to someone who runs into the back of your car may not be a good idea or in your best interests.
As previously pointed out in numerous other articles on this website, it is always advisable to contact an attorney after an accident where injuries have occurred to you or others. Your attorney can always provide whatever information is requried by the other party or their representatives. Thereafter, any contact between the other parties and you can go through your attorney which is always a good idea. A lawyer can protect your rights in any subsequent claim that may be made to compensate you for damages you suffered whether such damages are for physical pain and suffering or just economic losses. It is recommended that you contact an attorney before speaking to an insurance company, yours or theirs! While you must comply with your obligations under the law and under the terms of your insurance policy, you may be assured that speaking to an attorney as soon as possible after an accident occurs will not subject you to adverse legal consequences nor to a denial of coverage from your insurance carrier. To the contrary, speaking with a lawyer will insure that your rights are protected and that any recovery to which you are entitled preserved.