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Applying federal and state law, the potential damages could be staggering.
The state’s Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) database, which contains photographs, addresses and driving records, is protected by state and federal law against unauthorized use. Legislators are seeking more transparency and accountability surrounding improper access and use of private citizen information after state records and a recent legislative auditor’s report showed that abuse is common among public employees.
Former St. Paul police officer Anne Marie Rasmusson sued a year ago claiming that more than 140 officers throughout Minnesota had breached her file; she reportedly received more than $1 million in settlements from local governments.
The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the DVS database, said Wednesday that “approximately” 144 people since Jan. 1 have asked to see the queries on their DVS files.
William McGeveran, a law professor specializing in data privacy at the University of Minnesota, said the overwhelming majority of federal class action lawsuits are settled. Federal law provides for civil damages of at least $2,500 per DVS misuse.
“This is the hammer the law has set up to encourage agencies to have proper procedures in place,” McGeveran said.
In some cases involving the release of private information by a public employee or agency, Minnesota law provides a civil cause of action for damages as well:
"***a responsible authority or government entity which violates any provision of this chapter is liable to a person or representative of a decedent who suffers any damage as a result of the violation, and the person damaged or a representative in the case of private data on decedents or confidential data on decedents may bring an action against the responsible authority or government entity to cover any damages sustained, plus costs and reasonable attorney fees. In the case of a willful violation, the government entity shall, in addition, be liable to exemplary damages of not less than $1,000, nor more than $15,000 for each violation. The state is deemed to have waived any immunity to a cause of action brought under this chapter."