by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has released the name of a former employee who wrongfully viewed the data of about 5,000 people without a legitimate, job-related reason.
John A. Hunt was discharged from the DNR on Jan. 11. Hunt had worked as the Enforcement Division’s administrative manager and had rightful access to driver’s license and motor vehicle records for law enforcement purposes.
As the Enforcement Division’s data practices “designee,” Hunt was charged with oversight of the division’s responsibilities for complying with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.
An investigation by the DNR and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) revealed that Hunt had viewed the data of about 5,000 people while off-duty without any job-related purpose, according to the DNR.
Hunt queried about 11,800 driver’s license and motor vehicle records between January 2008 and October 2012 — some individuals were queried more than once.
About 90 percent of the people whose data was viewed were female. These included celebrities, professional athletes, criminal justice professionals and television personalities.
Area women lawmakers number among those whose data was viewed.
Such unauthorized access of the database is against state and federal law, as well as DNR policy and expected standards of behavior, the DNR said.
“This employee not only violated the law, but betrayed the trust of the agency, his supervisors, and fellow employees,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
“His behavior does not meet the high standards of integrity that we expect from our law enforcement officers or from all employees,” he said.
The DNR has sent letters to individuals letting them know their records have been wrongly accessed.
About 200 DNR employees and some of their family members number among those whose data were wrongfully viewed.
The DNR is conducting a thorough review of DNR employee access to the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) data and redoubling the required training to access the database, according to the DNR.
The agency wants to be part of broader discussions of the inappropriate use of the DVS data.
“We want to share our experience with public policy makers and other agencies so that we can lend our voice to any solutions,” Landwehr said.
Lawmakers, citing the DNR case, have proposed toughening state law in regard to public employees and the wrongful use of state databases.
This includes criminal penalties for public employees wrongfully accessing data.
“Everyone at DNR is upset, embarrassed and disappointed by his actions,” Landwehr said, “and we sincerely apologize to everyone affected by his wrongful behavior.”
The agency has no knowledge of Hunt’s motives for his actions, the DNR said.
There is no indication the viewed data was sold, disclosed, or used for criminal purposes, the DNR said.
Social security numbers or DNR-related license or registration data were not involved.
The DNR is releasing information about the employment action, the release states, after the agency determined much of the data are public under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
The DNR said, because of the complexity of the case, needed to honor due diligence before releasing the information.
Tim Budig is at firstname.lastname@example.org