from the sorry-about-the-violations,-here’s-someone-else’s-money dept
Sept. 18, 2013
You know you’ve gone too far in abusing access to the public’s data when you’ve got a local politician doing something more than yelling about it on the campaign trail. Earlier this year, a report by state auditors discovered that more than half of Minnesota’s 11,000 law enforcement agents had misused the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) database.
This discovery led to the filing of a few lawsuits, but as further details have emerged, bigger plaintiffs are filing bigger lawsuits.
Steve Drazkowski, a Republican Minnesota state representative, becomes the latest politician in the state to sue various local and state agencies over public employees accessing his and his family’s driver’s license data as part of a campaign of political retaliation. He is suing along with 17 other state residents who say their data was accessed more than 600 times since 2003. Drazkowksi says the actions go back to when he first ran for state office, and was motivated by his fiscally conservative stance toward unions.
It’s probably not a good idea for public servants to further irritate a state rep who already takes a very dim view towards unions and the public sector in general. Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing the group, says the data accesses were clearly politically-motivated.
For example, [Kaardal] said, the plaintiffs’ data was accessed after announcements for political candidacy, on the day letters critical of the government were printed in the newspaper and on dates immediately following county board meetings where group members challenged public officials.
“They even went after the private data of my wife and my daughter — why?” State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said in the statement.
If these public servants were expecting to dig up a little dirt or intimidate someone, it clearly backfired. If that was the intent, it seems like it would have been cheaper to pay a per diem to a private investigator and send out someone from New Jersey waste management to take out a few kneecaps.
Federal law allows for a minimum of $2,500 for each violation of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which makes it illegal to get an individual’s private data without a legitimate purpose. Kaardal said damages could exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That’s 600 alleged violations at $2.5k each in this lawsuit alone. Across the state, 530 additional claims have been filed against 160 municipalities. And Tom Grundhoefer, general counsel of the League of Minnesota Cities, says the number is “going up daily.”
Also named in many of the lawsuits is the Department of Public Safety itself, which is accused of allowing “lax access” and failing to crack down on the “widespread abuse” uncovered by the state’s audit.
Ultimately, though, this will all land on the public, not because they accessed the records illegally, but because collecting settlements from state agencies means handing out tax dollars. Public servants are supposed to be good stewards of the money they’ve been entrusted with. Violating citizens’ privacy and then asking them to pay for these violations is screwing them twice.