By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS — Missouri residents obtaining concealed carry permits at license fee offices are being asked to provide personal information, an apparent violation of state law.
A Missouri Watchdog investigation found that software provided by a private company used to scan such documents as driver’s licenses is widespread in the Show-Me State.
His bill is in response to a lawsuit filed Monday in Stoddard County, where a resident was told that he couldn’t get his concealed-carry permit unless he allowed fee office workers to scan his driver’s license and application, which, his attorney said, is clearly breaking state statute.
“What is going on is improper and is a new and illegal impediment to citizens’ rights to obtain a concealed-carry permit,” said Stoddard County prosecutor Russell Oliver, who is acting as the private attorney for plaintiff Eric Griffin.
The state statute governing the actions of the Department of Revenue forbids it from disclosing such personal information as photographs, driver’s license numbers, names and addresses without express consent.
In investigating the matter, Oliver said, he discovered that a third-party company — Morphotrust — licenses the equipment. On its website, the company says it’s a partner with all states and many federal agencies in providing “identity solutions” “to simplify, protect and secure the lives of the American people.”
Oliver said he’s not sure how long the Morphotrust scanning machines have been in place or how far-reaching they are in Missouri license fee offices. Stoddard County is in the southeast corner of the state.
“This is new, at least it’s new to us,” said Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who joined Oliver at the Capitol in announcing the lawsuit.
Watchdog made anonymous calls Wednesday to license fee offices around Missouri to determine who’s using the software.
“Everybody in the state is,” said an employee at the Affton office in St. Louis County.
When Watchdog asked her what they do with the information after it’s scanned, she replied, “We’re not allowed to answer questions like that” and referred us to the Department of Revenue.
Ted Farnen, DOR communications director, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. A DOR spokesman has told other media outlets its operations are “not inconsistent with the statutory protocols.”
A worker in the Sedalia office said Morphotrust just provides the equipment, and is not receiving the personal information of Missourians.
“It’s not sent to the company. It’s sent to the state.”
Watchdog tried to reach Morphotrust on Wednesday to determine whether the company is able to access Missourians’ data, but we did not receive a return call from the media relations department.
Missouri officials certainly think they can.
Oliver and Kinder said the DOR may be collecting the information to comply with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, but they said the state opted out of that law and instead implemented its own in response.
Oliver said fee office agents are supposed to inspect the documents for compliance and then hand them back, without collecting the information.
“Statute clearly makes the application itself personal, protected, private information,” Oliver said. “It is being uploaded to at least one third party, this private company, and from there we don’t know where it’s going.”
Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability will look into the issue.
“Data information is vital to individual freedom in the digital age and our committee will ensure that Missourians’ personal information is protected from unlawful disclosures,” Barnes said in a released statement.
House Speaker Tim Jones said he would fast-track Richardson’s bill.
“This is a priority issue we want to address as expeditiously as possible,” he said. “Missourians have an expectation that their personal information will remain private.”