ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Legislation to cut down on snooping of citizen data by public employees bogged down in a conference committee Thursday, with some legislators worried that time is running out to address the problem.
Proposals include requiring a written reprimand to any public employee who improperly looks up private data; requiring public employees to show they looked at private data legitimately; and requiring disclosure whenever a public employee is being investigated.
Some public officials spoke against the proposals, saying they could make it more difficult to carry out their work.
Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, agreed.
“We spend a lot of money on these agencies so they can do their work,” said Hortman. She said consequences should exist for data snooping, but cautioned against unreasonable demands on government workers. “We have to be really careful.”
Dan Rogan, managing attorney of the civil division of the Hennepin County attorney’s office, said he supported another requirement in the legislation for a report to be published explaining any data breach.
“Getting sunlight that way” is preferable, he said. “If, in fact, data breaches are as rampant as you suspect and the entities are disclosing that, then the Legislature can ensure the agencies are dealing with it appropriately.”
Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said the Legislature has to address the mushrooming problem of data snooping.
“We’re struggling with the pervasiveness of unauthorized access and it’s been going on for years,” Holberg said. “We still don’t have an accountability factor.”
The highest-profile case of data snooping in Minnesota is that of a Department of Natural Resources employee who was accused of improper driver’s license lookups some 19,000 times over several years. The employee, since fired, was sentenced last month to two years probation. In another case, KSTP-TV reported last month that a Metro Transit employee had searched driver’s license records of ex-girlfriends, co-workers and neighbors for more than two years.
Conference committee work must be wrapped up by Friday, with adjournment of the Legislature by May 19. Hortman said good ideas have been put forward, but some people are looking for perfect ideas that don’t exist.
“We need to do more for individuals; I don’t disagree,” Hortman said. “I suggest we consider a proposal that we can move forward through both bodies before adjournment.”
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