I wrote them and expressed my concerns. Here is the response I got:
Since 1975, Texas law has required the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to make boat ownership information publicly available.
31.039 Public Records: Fees
(a) All ownership records of the department made or kept under this chapter are public records.
(b) The commission may by rule charge a fee for access to ownership records and other records made or kept under this chapter.
31.0391 Release of Information
(a) The department or a county may not release the name or address of a person recorded in the department vessel and outboard motor ownership records unless the department or county receives a written request that:
(1) contains the requester's name and address; and
(2) states that the use of the information is for a lawful purpose.
(b) This section does not apply to the release of information to:
(1) a peace officer as defined by Article 2.12, Code of Criminal Procedure, who is acting in an official capacity; or
(2) a state official or an official of a political subdivision of this state who requests the information for tax purposes.
For many years TPWD has required requests for boat ownership information to be submitted in writing. Boating constituent groups, county officials, legislative officials, law enforcement agencies and much of the public have strongly urged TPWD to simplify the boat titling and registration process.
By making boat ownership information available on the TPWD website, marine dealers can now quickly acquire accurate information regarding trade-ins, and wrecker services can now acquire the information to locate owners of towed boats within the five-day period required by law. The general public can also check ownership information when buying a used boat to determine legal ownership, whether a title is available, whether a lien exists, whether the registration is accurate and current, and if there are any problems preventing future transactions.
Law enforcement agencies have also requested easier access to boat ownership information. TPWD will be providing boat ownership information directly to city, county and state law enforcement agencies through standard law enforcement electronic communications systems. Communicating this information more efficiently and effectively will assist law enforcement agencies in recovering more stolen boats.
As individuals Ė many of whom also are boat owners -- we at TPWD understand your concerns for safety and security regarding the release of boat ownership information. These concerns were taken into consideration in designing the search tool for boat ownership information on the TPWD website in order balance these concerns with the publicís right of access to this information.
Searches are limited to only boat TX numbers or serial numbers in order to prevent random searches. In addition, specific identifying information regarding all requestors is tracked, and every query is recorded.
As many of you are aware, there are a wide variety of search tools commonly available on the Internet that provide similar and sometimes more detailed personal information, many at no cost. United States Coast Guard-documented vessels (approximately 13,000, in Texas) are similarly searchable through the Web at: http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/st1/CoastGuard/VesselByName.html
The intersection of public information and privacy often requires government agencies to be thoughtful and careful in the way they fulfill their obligations to the public. TPWD welcomes your ideas about how we can better do that. Please feel free to contact us at 1-800-262-8755 or to use the departmentís formal complaint process available on the agency web site at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/business/feedback/complaints/file_a_complaint.phtml
Boat Registration & Titling Section
Texas Parks & Wildlife"