Data Breach at DNR Leads to Two Class Action Lawsuits

Created: 01/26/2013 10:52 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer

More fall-out over the data breach at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources: two class action lawsuits have now been filed.

At least five thousand people had their motor vehicle records accessed--without authorization--by a former DNR employee.

The attorney who filed the latest suit says the breach is a clear sign that people who work at the DNR, and possibly other state agencies, are not being properly trained or supervised.

Victims of this invasion of privacy say they want to know why they were selected, and what, if anything, was done with their information.

"I became just creeped out. It was unsettling," said Danielle Prenevost, a north Minneapolis resident. When she received a letter from the DNR explaining to her that an employee had "engaged in unauthorized viewing" of her private data, she started wondering.

"What was he looking for, what was he using the information for?" she said.

The DNR says the man in question, John A. Hunt, was fired for wrongful access to people's driver's licenses--that he was viewing the data during off hours without a job-related reason for doing so.

The letter Danielle received from the DNR went on to say, "We have no indication that your data was disclosed to others, sold, or used inappropriately." Yet the DNR also suggested victims of the breach continue to monitor their personal credit in case the information is somehow exploited in the future.

The DNR's investigation also revealed that 90 percent of the people accessed were female.

"That's not a good feeling," Danielle said.

News of this data breach comes just months after former police officer Anne Rasmussen racked up more than a million dollars in settlements after she sued 150 officers in 16 departments statewide, claiming they used government databases to snoop on her.

"I want a deeper investigation," Danielle said. "Are there others like him? And if there are, the higher-ups need to be held more accountable for that."

Class action attorney Tom Lyons agreed, telling 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Saturday, "This makes you wonder if there's more going on here than just the actions of one rogue employee. We don't know where this is going to end up."

The suit Lyons filed targets both John A. Hunt and the state, but perhaps surprisingly, Danielle wants no part of it.

"I don't think that getting any monetary compensation from the state is going to help," she said. "But they do need to put safeguards in place to make sure this doesn't continue."

Because two class action suits have been filed, it's now up to the courts to determine how to proceed. They could be merged, or the first one filed could simply trump the second.

John A. Hunt has not been charged criminally. According to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a review of its finding has been sent to county attorneys.

It's now up to them to decide what to do next.

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com