New data privacy lawsuit filed against DNR employeeby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Four women have filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources employee accused of looking up their driver's license records.
The lawsuit, filed late Monday in federal court, is the third such action filed since the DNR revealed that one of its employees inappropriately accessed the records of 5,000 people, 90 percent of whom were women. It seeks class action status.
The DNR later identified the employee as Capt. John Hunt, the administrative manager of the DNR's Enforcement Division. Hunt, who was fired, is named in the lawsuit, along with several other DNR and Department of Public Safety officials. Hunt had access to the state's driver and motor vehicle databases to perform checks as part of his job, but DNR officials have said he accessed the information during off-duty hours without a job-related reason to do so.
Hunt did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The women argue in their lawsuit that having their photo, physical description, address and sometimes medical information accessed inappropriately violated their privacy. The lawsuit cites the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act and seeks at least $10 million in damages from Hunt and the others.
"There are people who take their private data very, very seriously, and it is troubling to those individuals to know that somebody has illegally, or maybe I should say impermissibly, accessed their private data," said Jeffrey Montpetit, an attorney representing the four women. "And the question really becomes why were they accessing my private data and for what reason were they using it?"
Montpetit, an attorney with the personal injury law firm Sieben, Grose, Von Holtum & Carey, said so far there's been no explanation as to why people's records were accessed.
DNR and Department of Public Safety officials should have better safeguarded the information contained in the database, the lawsuit contends. "Many viable methods were and are available to prevent this illegal accessing of private information," the lawsuit said.
One of the law firms representing the women — Sapentia Law Group — also represented Anne Rasmussen, a former St. Paul and Eden Prairie police officer who discovered that her records had been inappropriately accessed hundreds of times by law enforcement officials. Several cities paid Rasmussen more than $1 million to settle her lawsuit.