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DNR names ex-employee who breached drivers license data

  • Blog Post by: Eric Roper
  • January 25, 2013 - 5:20 PM

Updated at 3:44 p.m.

A state agency revealed Friday that the employee who improperly accessed thousands of drivers license records, and ignited calls for stiffer laws, was an officer responsible for training his colleagues in proper data usage.

The Department of Natural Resources said Captain John Hunt, who was administrative manager of the agency's enforcement division, viewed drivers license data on 5,000 people while off-duty and without a work-related purpose. Altogether, Hunt made about 19,000 queries of the driver and vehicle services (DVS) database over nearly five years -- 11,800 of them while off duty.

The DVS database, which contains photographs, addresses and driving records on Minnesotans with a license, is protected by state and federal law against illegitimate use. The agency discharged Hunt on Jan. 11 and the Duluth city attorney is reviewing the case for possible criminal charges.

Ninety percent of Hunt's queries were for females, the agency said. Hunt's termination letter said he accessed records of celebrities, athletes, criminal justice professionals, television personalities, politicians and "victims of various tragedies." 

Ironically, Hunt was an agency designee for open records requests and data training. Third-party investigators who examined the misuse noted that Hunt's "responsibilites require him to ensure new DNR enforcement officers complete the DVS data privacy training provided by DNR." 

The termination letter said that on one occassion, Hunt made several unauthorized queries "immediately upon leaving" a seminar on law enforcement data practices.

The agency said it was performing a "top-to-bottom" review of DNR employee access to DVS data. 

"This employee not only violated the law, but betrayed the trust of the agency, his supervisors, and fellow employees," said DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr.

Hunt was an enforcement officer, but his role at the agency was largely administrative. His primary duties, according to the investigatory report, were administrating the agency's fleet program and radio inventory, as well as some human resources functions. As the data compliance officer, he handled public requests for records.

An 11-year employee of the agency, Hunt would have needed to use DVS records to largely perform background checks on new officer applicants. He would also look up records on people who sent the commissioner a threatening letter.

An agency spokesman, Chris Niskanen, said they do not know why Hunt made the lookups. Hunt did not immediately return a request for comment.

“This was a single employee," Niskanen said. "We’ve seen no other trends of employees doing similar things.”

Since the breach was discovered, lawmakers have proposed legislation that would impose stiffer penalties on public employees who innapropriately access government data.

"We want to be a part of this public discussion about coming up with a solution," Niskanen said. "And we want to help other agencies who might go through this similar situation because we’re angry, we’re frustrated, we’re disappointed with this employee.”

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