A former Minnesota state employee was charged Thursday with misdemeanors for allegedly accessing thousands of driver’s licenses during a four-year period and storing 172 of them in an encrypted file. Ninety percent of victims in the data breach were women.
John A. Hunt, 48, of Woodbury, Minn., faces six misdemeanors, including misconduct by a public employee and unauthorized computer access. He is accused of illegally querying the state Driver and Vehicle Services database more than 19,000 times between 2008 and last October. If convicted, he could receive up to a year in jail and $3,000 in fines.
As the state’s Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division’s administrative manager, Hunt had legal access to the records for official business only. Prosecutors say Hunt did his snooping, including downloading women’s photos, while off-duty and for no legitimate reason.
“There is no indication the viewed data was sold, disclosed to others, or used for criminal purposes. No Social Security numbers or other DNR-related license or registration data was involved,” according to a Northland Newscenter news report.
In all, Hunt is believed to have accessed 5,000 records, including those linked to politicians, judges, county and city attorneys, police officers, news reporters, family members and state employees.
Four of those victims this week filed a lawsuit for at least $10 million in damages against Hunt and several other state employees. They said the data breaches caused severe emotional stress and physical harm and were the result of “lax policies and lax enforcement” that allowed an unsupervised, unmonitored Hunt to continually access records for years.
“We’ve been getting calls from many of the people who received letters from the DNR stating that its employee had impermissibly viewed their private personal driver’s license information,” attorney Larry Fett told a reporter at local television station KARE. “By filing this lawsuit, we intend to help them vindicate their rights.”