DNR releases details of employee discharged for wrongful access of data | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

DNR releases details of employee discharged for wrongful access of data

Posted: January 25, 2013 - 4:04pm

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee that was discharged for wrongful access to driver's license and motor vehicle records was viewing the data during off-duty hours without a job-related reason to do so.

John A. Hunt was discharged Jan. 11, 2013 from the DNR. He worked as the Enforcement Division's administrative manager and, like other law enforcement officers across Minnesota, he had access to the driver's license and motor vehicle records for law enforcement purposes only.

The data is maintained by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS).

Investigations by the DNR and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) indicated that Hunt viewed the data of about 5,000 people while off duty and without any job-related purpose. Those individuals also include more than 200 DNR employees and some of their family members.

Hunt was discharged because unauthorized access of the database is a violation of state and federal law, as well as DNR policy and the agency's standards of behavior.

"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."

Landwehr said the agency is conducting a top-to-bottom review of DNR employee access to the DVS data and redoubling the employee training that is required to access the data.

The DNR also wants to be part of the broader public discussion of inappropriate use of the DVS data, including discussions at the Minnesota Legislature. "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.

The agency is releasing information about the employment action after determining much of the data is public under the Minnesota Data Practices Act. Because of the complexity of the case, and the fact it involved criminal and personnel investigations, the agency needed to do its due diligence before releasing public information about the employee.

The investigations showed Hunt queried about 11,800 driver's license and motor vehicle records during off-duty hours from January 2008 to October 2012. Since some individuals were queried more than once, the investigation showed about 5,000 individuals had their DVS data viewed without a job-related reason during off-duty hours.

The DNR recently sent letters to those individuals making them aware their records had been inappropriately accessed.

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.

The investigation indicated that about 90 percent of those individuals whose data was viewed were female. Records of celebrities, professional athletes, criminal justice professionals, television personalities, politicians, and others whose names appeared in news stories were viewed without a job-related reason to do so.

A DNR enforcement officer, Hunt was the Enforcement Division's data practices "designee." He was responsible for managing the division's responsibilities for complying with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, which included staff training and assisting staff with data practices issues and requests.

Records indicate Hunt attended data practices training over a period of years, including training related directly to law enforcement data. Hunt's duties were also to ensure that new conservation officers were familiar with laws and rules concerning access to driver's license and motor vehicle records.

The DNR has no knowledge of Hunt's motives for the actions that resulted in his dismissal.

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