Editorial: Protect our data

Published 11:19 am Thursday, January 17, 2013

Daily Herald Editorial

Minnesota’s database of driver’s license information must be an irresistible treasure trove of information, because reports that public employees are digging through driver’s data for personal reasons have become routine. This week’s revelation was that a Department of Natural Resources employee had looked up 5,000 Minnesotans’ supposedly private data over the past few years. Add that information to a drumbeat of similar incidents and it is clear that the Department of Public Safety either can’t or won’t protect Minnesotans’ records from wrongful prying. It is time for the Legislature to set some new standards.

It isn’t clear how much information is tied to each driver’s record in state computers, but it’s a safe assumption that there are things worth learning — otherwise, why inspect 5,000-plus records? Similar instances came to light last year and the year before that — and there have been well-publicized cases where individuals have been targeted for multiple look-ups.

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Yet even as the state’s goldmine of personal information is almost routinely violated, there appear to be minimal consequences for those involved, perhaps because the Department of Safety’s response to such instances is so lukewarm. Thus, it seems necessary for the state Legislature to get involved and provide some real teeth for laws that supposedly protect Minnesotans from prying. Inappropriate access of anyone’s government-held records should carry a meaningful punishment, and authorities should be required to aggressively enforce those laws.

In a day when personal data security is a major issue, Minnesota ought to make a meaningful effort to protect its residents from unnecessary prying.