Drazkowski among plaintiffs in lawsuit over private data
A federal lawsuit alleges driver's license records of 18 Minnesota citizens, including a state representative and three Wabasha County commissioners, were illegally accessed by employees in more than 50 cities and counties.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday by Minneapolis attorney Erick Kaardal, claims the plaintiffs' protected driver's license records were illegally targeted or "pinged" at least 600 times since April 18, 2003. GOP State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, Wabasha County commissioners Deb Roschen and Dave Harms, and former commissioner Merl Norman were among the individuals whose data was illegally accessed, the lawsuit claims.
The plaintiffs say they were targeted for their political activity, and by accessing their data, unnamed government defendants were looking for incriminating information, such as a driving violation, a suspended driver's license, an expired motor vehicle tab or arrest warrant, that could used against them.
The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages. It is not clear whether any illegally collected personal data was used in a damaging fashion against the plaintiffs. The lawsuit makes no such claim.
"In each instance, in the act of doing so, the defendants violated the plaintiffs' legally protected privacy, by obtaining and using the protected individual data contained in the driver's record," Kaardal said in a press statement.
Although the lawsuit names more than 50 cities and counties — including Wabasha County, Rochester, Minneapolis, Stillwater and St. Cloud — most of the individuals alleged to have committed the violations are not identified by name, referred to anonymously as "John and Jane Does."
In an interview, Drazkowski said that what bothered him most about the alleged violations is that the protected records of his wife and daughter were also accessed.
"I was in shock," said Drazkowski, a four-term state representative. "And then when I saw that they did the same things to my wife and daughter — that were not involved in the political arena — it turned to anger."
Drazkowski said his information was pinged 95 times and the information of his wife and daughter 38 times during a nine-year period from May 2004 to two months ago. Some of the pings came as far away as Lake City, a place he hadn't resided in years.
The pings tended to congregate at times of high-profile political activity, he said, such as when articles about his candidacy for political office appeared in the newspaper or members of a politically active group wrote letters to area newspapers critical of government. They were also alleged to have occurred following county board meetings where people criticized government officials, the suit states.
Kaardal said that by accessing their records, cities and counties violated the plaintiffs' right to privacy and other protections under the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act.
Documents filed by the attorney of Drazkowski and the 17 other plaintiffs allege their records were targeted at least 600 times during the last decade, from April 18, 2003, to Thursday, the day the complaint was filed.
The suit states that the records of Drazkowski, Roschen, Harms and Norman were breached during their election campaigns. It says that when those representatives took sides in county issues, "government officials would ping the DPPA-protected records of plaintiffs involved."
Issues that brought the plaintiffs and Wabasha County government into the most heated disputes revolved around building a new jail, negotiating union contracts, shutting down a county driver safety school and creating a government study commission.
Calls to Wabasha County Attorney James Nordstrom and Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsh were not returned.
"These people violated my trust in government, my feeling of safety, and my family's security," Roschen said in a statement issued by the plaintiffs' attorney. "Why are they pouring over data about my daughter and my husband? Who is holding these people accountable?"
Drazkowski said he feels a "personal mandate" to bring change to a system that permits such alleged abuses. He said all it takes for "people in law enforcement to access our data" is a user name and password. He claimed that those user names and passwords travel with an employee, even when they are no longer an employee.
"We need to reform the system, tightening up access," Drazkowski said. "Second, we need to bring consequences. Each of these people -— they know this behavior is not legal in the face of federal law."