No Austin, Mower law enforcement accused of abusing license data

Published 10:21 am Friday, April 26, 2013

Despite dozens of claims against Minnesota city and county law enforcement agencies for inappropriate use of driver’s license information, it appears local law enforcement departments have not been the target of those suits.

According to the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor, no officers from Mower or Freeborn County sheriff’s offices, or from Austin or Albert Lea police departments were among the 88 individuals accused of abusing their privileges of looking at state driver’s license data.

According to the auditor’s full report, “Inquiries conducted by DVS and investigated by law enforcement agencies during fiscal year 2012 found 88 law enforcement personnel misused the [Driver and Vehicle Services] DVS website. For example, in one case, the law enforcement agency reported that the user looked up the address of a friend. In some cases, users looked up information about a co-worker or relative. Between early 2010 and May 2012, investigations of alleged misuse of data by law enforcement personnel using BCA systems revealed that six individuals misused driver or vehicle information.”

Email newsletter signup

However, the Pioneer Press reported Sunday that the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust faces 124 claims against 90 cities, and the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust faces claims, as well. Still, Austin and Mower law enforcement leaders said Thursday they have not seen any claims.

Statewide, liability claims for improper uses of Minnesota’s driver’s license database could reach several million dollars. Federal laws governing license data privacy set minimum damages for misuse at $2,500 per incident — plus attorney’s fees. Many cities, counties and state agencies involved in recent privacy breaches are backstopped by insurance and rainy-day funds that would soften the blow of potential payouts. But the sheer scope of the alleged violations by law enforcement officers and other public employees suggests those funds could be on the hook for millions of dollars — and the Legislature might have to appropriate millions more for claims against state agencies.

The Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, which fills a similar role, has been notified of about two dozen claims against its member counties.

Some larger cities and counties don’t belong to either group. They defend themselves and pay settlements from their own treasuries.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.