State Approved Stalking: MN Newscaster's License Info Viewed 1,380 Times
from the more-access-than-oversight:-always-a-bad-idea dept
Just recently we covered the story of the rampant abuse of Minnesota driver’s license data and the resulting lawsuits, including one featuring 18 plaintiffs. One of the plaintiffs, Steve Drazkowski, is a state representative that had his information illegally accessed over 600 times by various state employees, something he believes was politically motivated.
Jessica Miles, a KSTP-TV midday anchor and reporter, became the news herself on Monday.
Miles filed a federal lawsuit claiming that her private driver’s license information was illegally searched about 1,380 times, believed to be the highest number so far in the mushrooming scandal.
Yes, 1,380 times by personnel from 180 different agencies, according to her lawyer. This sort of impropriety adds up quickly for the state, which provides for a fine of $2,500 per incident, bringing the possible total to $3.5 million. The total could go even higher as Miles’ lawyer is seeking additional damages.
This information first came to Miles’ attention via a letter from the Dept. of Public Safety, which stated her information had been inappropriately accessed. She contacted the director of Driver and Vehicle Services, who downplayed the access and (very possibly) lied about the number of times this access had occurred.
McCormack told Miles that only one employee had inappropriately obtained her information and “the department has taken the appropriate and allowable disciplinary actions necessary to address this matter with the employee.” She told her the “motive” was “basic curiosity” and inappropriate accesses was not a widespread concern, the suit says.
As the director of Driver and Vehicle Services, it’s barely conceivable that McCormack didn’t know of any other incidents involving Miles’ data. Barely. It may even be possible that she had no idea that this illegal database access was, in fact, very widespread. But this seems highly unlikely, given the result of two recent state audits.
In the last two years, audits have revealed that about 160 individuals, mostly in government agencies, have improperly used Minnesota’s Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) database. Protected under state and federal law, it contains photographs, addresses, driving records, physical descriptions and other details about most Minnesotans.
Many of these employees are repeat offenders, including John Hunt (whose actions were covered here previously, albeit briefly), who is now facing criminal charges for his egregious abuse of the driver’s license database.
Hunt, a former employee of the Dept. of Natural Resources, is accused of looking up 18,844 records over a five-year period, 94% of them belonging to women. In true bureaucratic fashion, Hunt’s unnoticed abuse resulted in him obtaining the perfect position to forge ahead with his full-scale assault on the DVS database.
Ironically, the Department of Natural Resources had designated Hunt as among those in charge of open records requests and data training. His responsibilities included ensuring that new DNR officers completed training in DVS data use.
Among the many, many women whose info Hunt sifted through was none other than Jessica Miles herself. This earlier article doesn’t name names, but the following seems like too much of a coincidence to be anyone else.
Investigators learned that Hunt conducted drivers license queries on a TV anchorwoman “following the scheduled ending of the TV anchorwoman’s broadcast.”
Miles’ problems went deeper than simple cyberstalking by various state employees. The misuse of the database also led to a case of identity theft.
A month [after contacting McCormack], TCF Bank notified Miles that someone went into a Mankato-area TCF Bank, and using her name, switched the account and the bank issued a new card. Miles contacted McCormack, who told her that the incident had been addressed. The suit alleges that the TCF incident occurred because Miles’ driver’s license information had been obtained.
“McCormack fraudulently concealed from Jessica the massive extent” of the intrusion into her private data, the suit claims.
However the “incident” was addressed was obviously too little, too late. The staggering amount of abuse uncovered is going to cost the state (read: taxpayers) millions of dollars and the entire system is in dire need of a significant overhaul and some deterrents with actual bite to them.
When other agencies (we all know who I’m talking about here) with access to even more personal data claim it’s in good hands and constantly steer the conversation in the direction of its “authority” rather than its “ability,” this debacle in Minnesota should make it perfectly clear that authority rarely, if ever, trumps ability. Every system can be abused and the more people who have access only increases the chances that it will be.