Charges filed in Minnesota DNR data breach
- Blog Post by: Eric Roper
- February 7, 2013 - 6:43 PM
Updated at 6:43 p.m.
By Eric Roper and David Chanen
Criminal charges have been filed against a former state employee accused of breaching thousands of drivers license files, largely on women.
Prosecutors said in charges filed against John Hunt, who worked for the Department of Natural Resources, that he made 11,747 queries of the protected data while he was off duty and kept an encrypted file on his work computer containing drivers license photographs of 172 women.
Hunt (in the foreground at right) is charged with six counts, including misconduct of a public employee, unauthorized computer access, encrypting data to conceal a crime and unlawful use of private data. All of them are gross misdemeanors or misdemeanors.
Many of Hunt's queries were on high-profile women, including politicians, judges, county and city attorneys, police officers and female news reporters. An investigation found that 94 percent of Hunt's 18,844 total person queries over nearly five years were on women. That figure includes queries to "probe deeper into an individual's DVS record," the complaint said.
Investigators learned that Hunt conducted drivers license queries on a TV anchorwoman "following the scheduled ending of the TV anchorwoman's broadcast." In addition to the file of 172 photographs, investigators found an additional 26 license photographs elsewhere on Hunt's computer.
The state's driver and vehicle services (DVS) database, which contains photographs, addresses, and driving records on Minnesotans with a license, is protected by state and federal law against illegitimate use. State records show that misuse of the database is common, but criminal charges are rare.
The case is being prosecuted by the Duluth city attorney's office. Twin Cities prosecutors made the unusual referral because too many local officials had their data breached.
The Hunt case drew the ire of legislators at the Capitol -- several of whom were victims of the data breach -- and spurred calls for new state laws about data misuse.
“I think it’s important that charges be filed,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, who is sponsoring a bill that would increase tranparency and penalties for data breaches. “I’ve talked before about [how] we need to change the culture. And I guess we’re to the point that if there aren’t any consequences the culture doesn’t change.”
Ironically, the Department of Natural Resources had designated Hunt as among those in charge of open records requests and data training. His responsibilities included ensuring that new DNR officers complated training in DVS data use.
The complaint states that Hunt's supervisor estimated his job duties would require him to make no more than 500 DVS queries a year, largely to complete background checks on job applicants.
“Sensitive information must be available to law enforcement officers for them to solve crime and carry out their public safety duties," public safety commissioner Mona Dohman said in a statement. "But this data should never be accessed in a manner that violates the trust the citizens of our state have a right to expect.
Dohman said the department, which oversees the database, audits the top 50 users and implemented randomized audits last month.
The charges against Hunt follow news earlier this week that former police officer Anne Marie Rasmusson, who sued juristictions across the state for misuse of her DVS file, had settled her case with Dohman's department. The stipulations of the settlement, which the Department of Public Safety has not confirmed, include better audits of the DVS database.
Photo: Hunt testifiying at the Legislature in 2010. Copyright Minnesota House of Representatives. Photo by Andrew VonBank.
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