Legislative Auditor issued rare subpoena to state agency

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles revealed to lawmakers Thursday that he recently used his subpoena power to gain information from a state agency that had been uncooperative.

Nobles told members of the Legislative Audit Commission that he experienced the roadblock late last year while investigating the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and its release of some vehicle registration information that was supposed to remain confidential. He described it as a potential data breach.

“We first seek cooperation. If it is not forthcoming, we send a subpoena," Nobles said. “We did that then. We’ll do that again if we face those situations.”

Nobles said this was the first time he issued a subpoena to a state agency in 35 years on the job. He described growing frustrated by the department’s lack of response over several weeks to his request for information. The subpoena, he said, did the trick.

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“I issued on a Friday. I received the information on a Monday,” he said

A DPS spokesman said the department was in the process of gathering and preparing the requested information when the subpoena arrived. He also stressed that there was no data breach.

Nobles later explained that the department is required by law to notify him of such an incident in a timely manner. He said the office of then-Gov. Mark Dayton also intervened on his behalf.

Nobles said he is still investigating the matter.

“Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again,” said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, a commission member.

A Republican legislator said he was astonished by the department’s initial lack of cooperation with Nobles.

Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, called on the governor to look into the matter.

“In the interest of full transparency, I urge Governor Walz to instruct his department to cooperate with Auditor Nobles and his team so we can begin to learn why this breach occurred and how we can prevent future data breaches moving forward," Torkelson said.