DNR identifies employee behind large data breech

7:56 PM, Jan 26, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took the extraordinary step Friday of releasing the name of the fired employee accused of wrongfully tapping into private drivers license data of thousands of Minnesotans.

The DNR identified the dismissed worker as the Enforcement Division's administrative manager, Capt. John Hunt. He was fired January 11, according to the agency.

"He betrayed our trust in him. That's why we discharged him," Chris Niskanen, a DNR spokesperson told KARE.

"This activity occurred during off-duty hours. There was no job related purpose for doing it."

Niskanen said Hunt is a sworn officer, who joined the DNR in 2001. 

The agency's own probe, and a subsequent inquiry by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, revealed that Hunt improperly accessed 11,800 records from the Driver & Vehicle Services electronic database.

Those searches took place between January 2008 and October 2012, for an average of roughly seven records pulled per day. The information includes drivers license photos, dates of birth, addresses and other information.

The DVS database also includes motor vehicle records as well. As a law enforcement officer Hunt would've had access to driving records as well, including infractions. It's not clear whether that part of the driver data was viewed.

"We don't ever want to have this happen again," Niskanen said. "We're doubling down on our efforts to train people. We're doing a top to bottom review of everyone in this agency who  has access to that data."

The agency mailed out letters to at least 5,000 Minnesotans, some of whom had records accessed multiple times, advising them of the data breach.  The letters advised recipients to take the precaution of monitoring their personal credit, but said the risk of a financial crime was minimal.

Jana Shortal was among several current and former KARE reporters who received notices from the DNR.  According to reports that have surfaced, 90 percent of the records accessed belonged to females.

Many were media personalties, professional athletes, judges, prosecutor and other high profile persons.

The list also included 200 of Hunt's fellow DNR employees, including Niskanen.

"Yes, I was on that list. I received a letter," Niskanen remarked.

"There's really a sense of really being betrayed and being very disappointed."

He said it was especially unsettling, considering that one of Hunt's duties was training other employees about the proper use of protected data such as the DVS records.

Niskanen said the DNR cannot release an photo of Hunt, due to -- ironically -- data privacy regulations that apply to state employees.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Hunt's activities violated state laws, as well as agency policies and behavior standards.

"His behavior does not meet the high standards of integrity that we expect from our law enforcement officers or from all employees," Landwehr said in a statement released to the media Friday. 

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.

"Everyone at DNR is upset, embarrassed and disappointed by his actions," Landwehr said, "and we sincerely apologize to everyone affected by his wrongful behavior."

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )

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