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Lawyers aim to cash in on data privacy breach

Posted by: Eric Roper under Civil liberties, Public records Updated: January 25, 2013 - 11:58 AM

The rush is on to cash in on last week's revelation of a data breach by a now-former employee of the Department of Natural Resources.

A Washington County man, Jeffrey Ness, filed suit Wednesday against state officials and agencies after learning he was one of 5,000 people whose drivers license data was breached by an unnamed DNR employee. The suit, first reported by the Associated Press, seeks class-action status.

Meanwhile, an attorney in Mankato is reaching out to victims asking if they would like to make a claim. The firm, Farrish Johnson, is already pursuing a class action suit against a former Rock County employee for DVS misuse.

A Star Tribune reporter received a letter in the mail from attorney Scott Kelly with Farrish Johnson. It notes that records from the state indicate that misuse of drivers records is "rampant."

"We are looking at other agencies including the DNR where abuses occured," the letter says. "If you are interested in pursuing a claim or would like information about your rights, please feel free to contact me."

In the Rock County case, the firm found some of its 24 plaintiffs by placing an ad in the local newspaper. Kelly said Friday that they only sent letters to two people in relation to the DNR case.

After reviewing state records and filing open records requests, he believes that a minimum of 18,000 drivers records have been breached over the last three years. "Our intent is that if the Department of Public Safety and these agencies can’t control it, that we will do whatever we can to enforce the law," Kelly said.

Litigation has suddenly become rampant in breach cases involving drivers license records, ever since former St. Paul cop Anne Marie Rasmusson garnered more than $1 million in settlements from local governments after alleging DVS misuse.

That's partly because federal statutes say a court can award minimum damages of $2,500 per violation.

Not all the cases are against government entities. A Coon Rapids school bus driver is suing Capitol One Bank and a reposession company related to a breach of drivers licence records that occured in April 2012. That case is still being reviewed for possible criminal charges

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