Reporting Bill Hudson
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — If you recently received a letter from the Department of Natural Resources you might want to check your credit report. The agency announced Tuesday a former employee was viewing the private driver’s license data of thousands of Minnesotans.
Whether you buy a hunting or fishing license, register a boat, snowmobile or ATV, there’s a state data base that is crucial for the transaction. It contains driver and vehicle license information protected by data privacy laws.
The Department of Natural Resources is just one of many state and municipal agencies allowed to use the information.
“We take private data very seriously here,” explained DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen.
However, on Tuesday, the DNR revealed that a former employee was tapping into those records without valid reason. That is a clear violation of the Minnesota Data Practices Act, which is intended to protect a person’s private information.
“It is a very small group of employees who have access to this data,” said Niskanen, adding that is namely DNR employees who work in the areas of law enforcement and licensing.
The breach was discovered due to the large number of times the employee had accessed the data base. It’s estimated that some 5,000 Minnesotans had their personal data accessed by the former worker.
Each will get a letter from the DNR apologizing for the breach and explaining what happened. Those affected are also being advised to monitor their credit reports to see who has accessed their credit history.
“We are doing everything possible to make sure this doesn’t happen again. This is the first and only time it’s ever happened at DNR,” said Niskanen.
However, it’s hardly the first time a public employee has been in trouble for tapping into protected data. A Minneapolis housing inspector was recently charged with unauthorized access of private records. In 2011 a number of Hennepin County district court employees were disciplined for doing similar data searches.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesman, Bruce Gordon says the agency is clamping down!
“We’ve redoubled our efforts. We’re auditing the system for the high end users on a monthly basis plus using randomized audits. All to make certain the people aren’t using it (DVS data) for purposes for which it’s not intended,” said Gordon.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said the agency will implement further employee training and will look for ways to better monitor access to private data, making certain it doesn’t happen again.