Charges filed in DNR data breach case

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The former Minnesota Department of Natural Resources employee accused of looking up thousands of driver's license records had access to the state's driver and motor vehicle databases to perform background checks on potential job applicants, authorities announced Thursday as part of a criminal investigation.

The new details about the incident were included in a six-count criminal complaint filed against John A. Hunt in Ramsey County District Court. Hunt, 48, of Woodbury, is charged with misconduct of a public officer, unauthorized computer access, using encryption to conceal a crime and unlawful use of private data.

All of the charges are misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors carrying maximum penalties of up to one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Hunt's supervisor told authorities his job would require no more than 500 searches of the database each year. But Hunt is accused of making 18,844 "total person" queries in the past five years, and 94 percent of them involved women, Assistant Duluth City Attorney Cary Schmies wrote in the criminal complaint. Duluth is prosecuting the case because Hunt allegedly searched the records of St. Paul prosecutors.

"The defendant's [Driver and Vehicle Services] queries to obtain private data on female federal and state political officials, female appellate court and district court judges, female county and city attorneys, female state patrol and city police officers, female news reporters from the Minneapolis/St. Paul TV stations, female employees from the DNR clearly exceeded the scope of his employment duties and authority as a DNR employee," the criminal complaint said.

Hunt has not returned messages seeking comment.

According to the complaint, Hunt accessed the database and even transferred some of the files. Authorities said they found some encrypted files on his computer, including a file containing 172 driver's license photos of women. Investigators said Hunt would sometimes use information from the database to then search Facebook pages or look for information on the person using Google.

In one case, investigators said, Hunt searched for a TV anchorwoman following the scheduled ending of her broadcast.

Last month, the DNR sent letters to 5,000 people whose records were accessed inappropriately by Hunt. Some of those individuals' records were accessed multiple times.

Hunt was fired from his job as administrative manager for the DNR's Enforcement Division following the agency's own investigation.

Three lawsuits have been filed in federal court against Hunt and other state officials seeking compensation for alleged violations of the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act.

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