Editorial missed the mark on snooping cases

  • Article by: MARSHALL H. TANICK
  • Updated: September 28, 2013 - 2:11 PM
John Hunt
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John Hunt, a former administrative manager at the DNR, allegedly accessed driver's license records 19,000 times -- often while he was off duty.

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The Editorial Board’s endorsement of a recent federal court ruling in Minnesota dismissing a class-action suit on behalf of about 5,000 Minnesotans, mostly women, whose driver’s licenses and motor vehicle data were illegally looked up by an official of the Department of Natural Resources took naiveté to new heights (“A welcome ruling in data snooping case,” Sept. 26).

Because I represent individuals in one of many parallel cases, involving primarily snooping tactics by counties, cities and a few private entities, I will leave the legal aspects of the litigation to the court system.

However, the editorial’s mixture of chagrin and insouciance would be lamentable and downright laughable if it were not such a serious matter. The editorial noted that the improper access, which includes personal data, photographs and even medical information, is “downright creepy,” but it offered no realistic remedy for the victims of the practice.

These intrusions create more than momentary discomfort. They often are undertaken by law enforcement personnel, like the offending DNR manager, for prurient or salacious purposes.

The incident that prompted the 1994 federal law at issue in the litigation, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), stemmed from the murder of a woman who was stalked and slain by a man who accessed her driver’s license data. Other victims in the Minnesota cases have reported surveillance, misuse of financial information and other real indignities.

Congress recognized the severity of these syndromes when it established a minimum of $2,500 in damages for each inappropriate lookup.

How would the newspaper propose to remedy these violations? By “personal liability” against the individual offenders.

It is sheer naiveté to imagine that an individual snooper would be able to pay the kind of compensation sought in these instances. The editorial’s call for only the individual offenders to “face consequences” is a lame and mindless approach that lets employers off the hook and leaves victims without meaningful recourse.

Congress certainly did not have this in mind when it enacted the law nearly 20 years ago.

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Marshall H. Tanick is a Minneapolis attorney who represents individuals in privacy litigation.

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