SPRINGFIELD - In the world of business, information is almost as good as gold.

And by all accounts, that makes state government a treasure trove for companies looking for data about the citizens who inhabit the state.

At a time when people routinely worry about the safety of their personal information, Illinois officials are raking in millions of dollars in revenue by selling personal information gleaned from driver's licenses and other sources.

The Illinois Secretary of State's office holds the driving records, vehicle registration, title and insurance information for nearly every adult in Illinois. The office makes the information available not only to law enforcement agencies and courts, but also to insurance companies interested in checking up on the driving records of those applying for insurance.

Secretary of State's office spokesman Henry Haupt said the office takes special care in releasing information to third parties and only does so in legitimate cases.

"Driver's license and vehicle registration data are not sold or otherwise made available by the secretary of state to any person or entity for the purpose of solicitation," Haupt said.

Insurance companies can obtain driving records for people applying for insurance or when the company wishes to update the information on a client to adjust rates.

Looking up the data doesn't come cheap each inquiry hits a company for $12 per person, and companies make many such requests a day.

Illinois received $64.3 million in revenue in 2007 from the sale of that type of information, Haupt said.

Kevin Martin, of the Illinois Insurance Association, said the price used to be much lower, and the high cost of collecting the information has become prohibitive enough for some insurance companies to cut back on how often they ask for personal information.

"It's not the best indicator that the companies are using anymore, but it is definitely a tool they are able to use to better assess someone's rate," Martin said.

Missy Lundberg, spokeswoman for Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance Cos., said her company normally employs a third-party company in obtaining the information meaning that those who access personal data from the secretary of state are given some ability to disclose it to others.

Brenda Glahn, a legal adviser for the office, said in the case of a support service like those State Farm uses, disclosure to a third party requires the inquirer to inform the secretary of state of why they need the data, what uses they are going to make of it, and all persons who will have access to it.

Glahn said leaking information to unauthorized sources would be prosecuted under federal law.

"And we would obviously stop doing business with them," Haupt added.

Kenneth Lowe can be reached at Kenneth.lowe@lee.net or 789-0865.

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