The state employee accused of accessing the records of 5,000 Minnesota drivers was identified Friday as the administrative manager of the Department of Natural Resources' Enforcement Division.
The DNR said John A. Hunt had been viewing the data during off-duty hours. Although he was authorized to use the database for law enforcement purposes, DNR officials said he did not have a job-related reason to view the records in question. Hunt was fired on Jan. 11, according to a DNR news release.
The DNR sent letters to the 5,000 people whose records were accessed. About 90 percent of the individuals whose data was viewed were women, DNR officials said Friday. The list included 200 DNR employees and some of their family members, professional athletes, criminal justice professionals, journalists and others whose names appeared in news stories.
"This employee not only violated the law, but betrayed the trust of the agency, his supervisors, and fellow employees," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in the news release. "His behavior does not meet the high standards of integrity that we expect from our law enforcement officers or from all employees."
Landwehr said the agency is reviewing DNR employees' access to the database and will participate in a broader public discussion about inappropriate use of the information.
Two lawmakers this week introduced legislation that would place stiffer penalties on public employees who misuse the data.
"Everyone at DNR is upset, embarrassed and disappointed by his actions," Landwehr said, "and we sincerely apologize to everyone affected by his wrongful behavior."
The incident at the DNR is being reviewed by the Duluth City Attorney's Office for possible criminal charges.
In addition, Hunt and the DNR are facing a federal lawsuit filed by one of the people whose records were accessed. Jeffrey Ness, a Washington County resident, filed the suit asking for at least $2,500 for each violation of the federal law that governs use of driver's license data. The lawsuit is seeking class action status.
It wouldn't be the first lawsuit filed in such a case. Several cities paid Anne Rasmusson, a former St. Paul police officer, more than $1 million to settle a lawsuit she filed after learning her driver's license records had been accessed hundreds of times by law enforcement officers.
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