BOSTON (State House News Service) – Private investigators want more streamlined access to a state-run database of personal information.
A bill before the Joint Committee on Transportation would allow licensed private investigators and detectives to digitally access records managed by the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Industry experts say they are already legally entitled to this information under the Driver Privacy Protection Act, but must go in-person to the registry where they sometimes end up waiting for hours alongside those renewing their license or scheduling a road test.
When PIs work alongside public defenders, those hours waiting in line are billable to the state, Stan Vogt, president of the Licensed Private Detectives Association of Massachusetts, told the Joint Committee on Transportation at a hearing on Tuesday.
“Investigators time is paid for by state of Massachusetts taxpayers, and all that time being billed physically standing in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles counter could be eliminated,” said Martin Kraft, vice president of private detective’s association.
Kraft said the RMV doesn’t have a specific process to help PIs get the information they need.
“The protocol is in disarray,” he said. “We could go stand in line for two hours or three hours, all of a sudden get to the counter and they’ll say, ‘Oh that person is supposed to help you, they’re not working today. You’re going to have to come back.'”
Under the current law, law enforcement agencies and insurance companies can access this information online through the registry’s protected database.
Kraft said that the district attorney offices have access to this data through the registry’s online database, while PIs need to spend extra time to get the same information.
“When you’re investigating a criminal matter, somebody’s liberty is at stake that they could go to jail for the rest of their life, being able to properly research and vet something is of the utmost importance,” Vogt said. “If those records do exist, if we’re doing our job as investigators we’re going to try to turn over those leaves, so to say, or peel that onion back, to be able to figure out are we on the right track? Is this correct? … We’re trying to really access anything we can to be able to make sure that we’re giving the proper defense that we’re sworn to.”
The bill does prohibit investigators from accessing the registry’s facial recognition software, though Vogt said “if it does become relevant in the case” that “that might be something that we would want to access.”
Vogt said these investigators undergo the same yearly background checks as the Massachusetts State Police and are “thoroughly vetted more than most professions.”
Lawmakers who heard the testimony on Tuesday seemed warm to the idea of the bill.
“I think that definitely should be streamlined for you,” said. Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol.