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4-min read

Own a vehicle? An SMS can reveal who you are

In an era when we are all becoming more concerned about our privacy, a service that gives away a vehicle owner's personal details is sure to raise some heckles.

Soumyadip | http://soumyadip.com

Updated:March 5, 2012, 10:26 PM IST
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Own a vehicle? An SMS can reveal who you are
In an era when we are all becoming more concerned about our privacy, a service that gives away a vehicle owner's personal details is sure to raise some heckles.

Update: A day after this IBNLive story criticising the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways' move making vehicle registration details available via SMS, the service has been restricted to registered mobile numbers only. Unauthorised mobile numbers trying to access the service, get a message that says, "Sorry your Mobile no is Not Authorised for this service." But the Web-based search is still available.

New Delhi: Saw someone zipping past in a vehicle and want to know his/her name? That vital piece of information, which can later lead to much else, is now only an SMS or a simple Web search away.

In an era when we are all becoming more concerned about our privacy, a service that gives away a vehicle owner's personal details via SMS is sure to raise some heckles.

Sending an SMS in the format VAHAN [space] [VEHICLE REGISTRATION NUMBER WITHOUT SPACES] TO +91 9212357123 / 09212357123 will get you a response that includes:

- The place of registration

- Name(s) of the owner(s)

- Make of the vehicle

- Type of vehicle

- Registration and fitness certificate expiry date

- The bank/institution from which the car is financed

- Motor vehicle tax details

On the face of it, this may appear to be helpful data that could come in handy during road accidents and rash driving cases, before purchasing a second-hand vehicle or for law enforcement and investigation purposes. But making such information so easily available will jeopardise the privacy of individuals, especially that of women.

Stalkers and others with mala fide intentions can make use of this to know names, they would have otherwise found difficult finding, and then look up on social networking websites for matches and further details.

In addition to the SMS service, details about the owner of a vehicle can also be easily determined using one of the many vehicle registration search services on the official websites of the transport departments in several states.

While many of them require additional details such as chassis or engine number before displaying search results, there are a few that throw open their entire cache without any barrier whatsoever.

For example the vehicle search feature on the VahSar website of the Government of Himachal Pradesh, any or a combination of the following parameters can be used to search their database:

- Registration number

- Registration date

- Owner name

- Father's name

- Colour of the vehicle

- Year of manufacture

- Type of owner (government, trust, individual etc.)

- Type of fuel used

- Registration type

- Class of vehicle

In case you want to know how many cars a certain Amit Singh owns or who is HP01H 0222, VahSar will provide you with all the details including correspondence and permanent address. This is a wealth of information not only for stalkers but also for marketers who want to reach out to new customers.

The need for making such information, that we would generally consider to be private, is debatable. In addition to the VahSar service mentioned above, here's a list of other similar online motor vehicle information search services in different states:

- vahan.nic.in (National)

- delhiveh.nic.in (Delhi)

- jalandhar.gov.in (Punjab)

- sangrur.gov.in (Punjab)

- goatransport.com (Goa)

- (Andhra Pradesh)

- keralamvd.gov.in (Kerala)

- cidwestbengal.gov.in (West Bengal)

These services are powered by Vahan, an information communication technology based solution for vehicle registration initiated by Ministry of Road Transport & Highways in association with the National Informatics Centre (NIC).

The data is fetched from a national register, that is a centralised database for driving licences and registration certificates, which at the time of its launch in July 2011 included vehicle data from 95 per cent of the 975 Road Transport Offices across the country.

According to the official Vahan website using the vehicle search feature citizens "can only search their own vehicle by providing full registration no and last five digit of chassis no." The government of India official portal, India.gov.in, states that the "data is captured and stored in a secured environment for easy access by the competent authority." Given the ease with which information from the database can be accessed everyone seems to have been designated as a 'competent authority'.

The number 9212357123 is apparently a Tata Indicom CDMA number and is used for multiple services by the NIC, such as Central Board of Secondary Education examination results, finding polling booth details during elections or to know status of RTI complaints.

While the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways is handing over our personal information to anyone who comes looking for it, traffic police in cities including Delhi and Bangalore are using vehicle registration numbers to let citizens know if they were caught flouting any traffic rules recently.

The use of registration numbers by Bangalore and Delhi police exemplify how the free flow of information can actually be helpful. But opening up private information of individuals for anyone to access is something needs a re-look into.

Individuals trust government bodies with information because they have no other choice and therefore governments must also reciprocate and add barriers that will allow only justifiable requests for access to their private data.

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