Agency investigating improper use of driver's license data

Minnesota drivers licenses
Minnesota driver's licenses.
MPR Photo/Melanie Sommer

The employees who looked at the records have not been identified. So far, there is no proof that they were involved in identity theft or had other criminal intent.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion says the agency takes the issue of violating driver privacy seriously and will not tolerate it. He says agency employees have received communications making that clear.

"We sent out another one again today to all employees citing our disappointment with the people who have done this and and to underscore the fact that we take this very seriously and employees will be dealt with swiftly and immediately in the event that this is identified again," Campion says.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion
Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion announces a breach in the security of the state driver's license database by two department employees.
MPR photo/Bob Collins

The department launched an investigation last July, after hearing allegations an employee was improperly viewing information in the state drivers database after work hours.

The employees use the database during the day for work, but are barred from viewing the data after-hours. The second employee was caught during a routine audit of the computer system. The information they accessed did not include social security numbers but did include home addresses and other personal information.

Both employees immediately lost access to the database and were put on unpaid leave. Commissioner Campion says the evidence appears to indicate the employees were looking at the records for their own entertainment. The records viewed included information on about a dozen well-known Minnesotans.

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Campion told reporters that all of the nearly 600 employees who can access the data sign confidentiality agreements when they are hired.

An official with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators say there are no numbers showing how widespread the problem of privacy breaches by government employees is. But he says he can recall no major incidents in more than a decade of outsiders hacking into motor vehicle databases.

Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center says such snooping in records is probably relatively common, but typically occurs during work hours and goes unreported. He says such breaches are likely to become more common as state and federal government agencies collect more and more personal information and that the Internet has raised the stakes on the need for governments to protect the privacy of citizen records.

"The reality of course is -- if you give up on protecting privacy -- the consequences are quite serious as anyone who has experienced identity theft can attest," Rotenberg says, "the real question is whether the states are doing enough to safeguard the information that they collect and maybe even starting to draw some lines and deciding certain types of information shouldn't be collected." Privacy issues will likely continue to be a hot topic as the federal government begins working out the details of implementing the Real ID act. The law will require all Americans to carry identification containing sensitive personal data. Congress is expected to issue details on how the IDs will work later this month or next.