Politicians Share Our Privacy Woes

Employees improperly used driver’s license database, according to suit set to be filed today

Politicians Share Our Privacy Woes

Image courtesy of [suphakit73] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 


Eighteen people plan to file a lawsuit in Minneapolis federal court this morning, claiming that government employees in Winona and more than 50 other Minnesota counties and cities violated their privacy by inappropriately using the state’s driver’s license database.

The complaint alleges that “government officials targeted citizens based on their political involvement” and searched private information using the database, commonly used by law enforcement. Attorney Erick Kaardal, who represents the accusers, said Wednesday he plans to reveal evidence of more than 600 illegal searches by employees of municipalities including Winona and Wabasha counties and the cities of Winona, Goodview and Wabasha.

The Winona County Sheriff’s Department, Winona Police Department and Wabasha Sheriff’s Office all said Wednesday they they were unaware of the pending lawsuit.

Goodview Police Chief Kent Russell said he was made aware of it, but was advised to forward specific questions to the League of Minnesota Cities, which provides legal representation for many smaller cities in the state.

He said his officers are trained on proper uses of databases that contain private information and are informed of what is appropriate and inappropriate use of the resources. He said he is not aware of any misuse by any of his 14 staff members.

Kaardal plans to release more detailed information on the cass today. Some of the cases, he said, involve situations where data was accessed of a politician who marched in a parade, someone who a letter to the editor, or placed a campaign sign in their front yard.

In one instance, Kaardal said, a court administrator who helped set up drug courts had her information accessed.

“She was pushing for change,” Kaardal said. “She was surprised that she had gotten all of these pings.”

Pings refer to any time someone accesses a name in the database, which records the time and location, as well as whatever information was viewed.

Some of Kaardal’s clients include state lawmakers, he said.

“They’re not sure they want to continue in politics if that’s the price to be paid,” he said.

The state’s driver’s license database made news last year, when a Department of Natural Resources employee was accused of using it to access the records of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom were women.

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