News / Utah / 

University holds database of your information



This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY -- When you get your driver license, you've just crossed paths with one of many government agencies that collect and store personal information about you.

"Each agency is expected to protect that information, so it can't be given out for any reason that is not allowable under law," said Randy Campbell, records officer for the Utah Driver License Division.

But the law does allow access to some information by insurance companies, private investigators and banks. And there is an office at the University of Utah that gets all the driver license data, including your height and weight, for research.

"They are really good up there to protect it," Campbell said. "They're very particular to what can be given to these researchers."

Of course, there is a question of credibility since the data originates with the drivers themselves. It's well-known in the trade that men tend to exaggerate their height, and many women minimize their weight.

But that bit of dubious data is a small part of a much larger pile of information the university keeps on 7 million people, living and dead.

"Well, the value has been tremendous over the years, and Utah has been a leader in the genetics field, in particular, in significant measure because of the value of this type of resource," said Jeffrey Botkin, associate vice president for research integrity at the University of Utah.

In addition to driver license information, the university databases include state records on births, deaths, marriages and divorces, medical records from university health facilities, cancer registry data, genealogical information and old census data. To use the data, researchers must get approval from a special committee charged with protecting privacy.

"That is the element. That is the central element of their responsibility," Botkin said.

Usually, researchers, or "investigators," are given the data in a form that protects the identity of individuals.

"We do not allow investigators to have individual identifiers unless we get the approval of those individuals first," Botkin explained.

"If you can save lives, there is a value to that," Campbell said.

There are currently more than 90 research projects currently underway that rely on those University of Utah databases.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com

John Hollenhorst

    SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

    Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast