Widening Probe In Minnesota Privacy Breach Of Driver’s Database

Brooke Bass spent her legal career looking out for the best interests of police officers.

They were looking out for her, too, her lawyer says — but in a different way.

In the past eight years, more than 100 entities across Minnesota — nearly all of them law enforcement — accessed Bass’s private driver’s license information more than 700 times, her attorney said.

That would make her the subject of the biggest privacy breach to date in the state’s increasingly broad and increasingly expensive license-data debacle.

Bass, who spent six years as a lawyer with Law Enforcement Labor Services, the state’s largest police union, was shocked when she learned this year that law enforcement agencies had pulled her information so many times, said Kenn Fukuda, her lawyer.

He said the volume and scope of the inquiries, which can include information such as a driver’s license photo, home address and physical description, suggest they went far beyond legitimate purposes.

“We don’t think there should be any reason why over 100 entities are looking her up,” Fukuda said.

Bass, now executive director of human resources for Rochester Public Schools, has yet to sue over the alleged breaches. But Fukuda and Sapentia Law Group have written to several agencies detailing her intent to seek damages. Federal law allows her to seek minimum damages of $2,500 per occurrence, plus attorney’s fees.

In one letter to Cottage Grove, one of the cities whose officers are accused of accessing her data, Fukuda wrote, “we believe she is entitled to at least $10,000 for each occurrence.”
The city, like dozens of others under scrutiny for data violations, is being represented in the matter through the League of Minnesota Cities.

The league already has taken 110 claims against 82 jurisdictions with more coming in daily, said Doug Gronli, its claims manager.

Bass has made 58 claims, the most so far. Other claimants include Brian Potocnik, a former Minneapolis police officer forced to resign after a sexual affair with a minor, and Lakeville private investigator Hilary DeVary.

“We’re trying to figure out what to do with all of them,” Gronli said. “It’s a huge number. This is very serious.”

The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust has assigned counsel to each of the cases. Gronli said he did not know how many claims will be filed or how much they could cost the trust.

He said at least one law firm has placed an ad in a newspaper in southwestern Minnesota seeking claimants.

“If you add all this stuff up, it could be large numbers,” he said. “The unfortunate part of it is, we don’t know the scope of these claims yet. We’re taking it very seriously.”

Last year, the league began to offer training regarding “ethical use of computer databases and proper computer use, proper use of government databases and the Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act,” Gronli said. It plans to make the training available free to all Minnesota law enforcement officers.

“We believe that our law enforcement officers across the state are good law enforcement officers,” Gronli said, adding the League is “comfortable with the training that is being provided and feel as if that is satisfactory.”

The league began the training in response to the case of Anne Marie Rasmusson, a former St. Paul police officer who said in a lawsuit last year that her data was looked up more than 550 times by fellow officers.

To date, she has settled with several cities named in the case for more than $660,000.

Her case prompted a report from the Legislative Auditor’s office that found more than half of Minnesota law enforcement personnel with access to driver’s license data might have made inappropriate searches.

The report was issued in February, a few weeks after criminal charges were filed against fired Department of Natural Resources officer John Hunt. Hunt is accused of making more than 19,000 license data searches, the vast majority of them for women.

The allegations against him have triggered at least five lawsuits seeking class certification for those Hunt is accused of looking up.

Jeff Montpetit, an attorney working on one of the lawsuits, said his firm — Sieben Grose Von Hotum & Carey — represents about 100 people.

He said he expects the number of cases to grow as people check to see how their own data was used.

“You’re going to see a lot of individuals who, once they have an audit done of their information, they’re going to come back scratching their heads,” Montpetit said. “It’s a system that was fraught with abuse.”

From The Minnesota Pioneer Press

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