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Bill would tighten access to driver’s license data

The case of a Minnesota man who prosecutors say used driver’s license and motor vehicle data to pinpoint empty Twin Cities homes as being ripe for burgling could lead the Legislature to put a tighter rein on the state’s databases of personal information.

Reps. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, and Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville, are drafting a bill that would put more teeth into a current law on third parties who buy driver’s license and motor vehicle data from the state.

Scott, who chairs the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee, said it was a recent KSTP report about an Eden Prairie police investigation that alerted her to the problem.

Roz Peterson

Roz Peterson

Surveillance video showing someone apparently observing cars as they parked near the Chanhassen Dinner Theater and Guthrie Theater led investigators to David William Pollard, 45, of Shakopee, who KSTP said is now facing nine burglary-related charges.

Those burglaries left a string of “super unfortunate victims,” said Scott, who asked, “Exactly what is the government doing with my data?”

Police say Pollard was using an online subscription to state data to get owners’ home addresses from license plate records.

“That was the first I had heard about it,” Scott said. Now she and Peterson are in the process of tweaking their draft of a bill that would beef up state law that provides for civil penalties for violations of privacy provisions in the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

Beefing up how? “We’re still working out those details,” Peterson said, adding that monetary penalties “may not necessarily be an appropriate deterrent.”

Both lawmakers said they expect to gain the bipartisan support that is typical with many data-protection measures.

Scott, who sits on the Legislative Commission on Data Practices, said she would likely ask the commission’s chair, Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, about holding an informational hearing on the bill during the interim between sessions. The commission could then advise the full legislature on taking action on the issue.

Minnesota doesn’t have a choice about releasing the information in the first place. Federal law known as the Driver’s Personal Protection Act mandates that states make driver’s license and motor vehicle data available, but limits the release to 14 permissible purposes.

Those purposes include verifying personal information for business reasons, using in legal cases, analyzing for research studies, and a variety of government-related reasons. Legitimate buyers of such data include insurance companies, Peterson said, for uses that are “completely appropriate.”

Rep. Peggy Scott, chair of the House Civil Law and Data Privacy Committee, says body camera legislation is effectively off the table in the lower chamber this year. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Rep. Peggy Scott, chair of the House Civil Law and Data Privacy Committee, says body camera legislation is effectively off the table in the lower chamber this year. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Also appropriate, Scott said, are fees the state charges third parties for access to the data. The state incurs costs related to the required sales, including for the work of drawing up contracts that spell out how a particular company may use the information.

But both representatives said they found it regrettable that in 2014 Gov. Mark Dayton issued a line-item veto removing a funding stream for the legislative auditor to use in investigating the security of data the state holds.

“It does make you wonder, and raises some concern, when our double-checking is not being addressed,” Peterson said, adding that weakness in enforcement and penalties at the federal and state level constitute a “loophole in the system.” Scott said she has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch about the problem.

It’s not in the third-party data-buyers’ interest to have others using their data through leaks or other means for purposes not provided by law, Peterson said.

Data privacy is a growing issue of concern for many states besides Minnesota, said Peterson. She pointed to the issue’s high profile at events such as the Council of State Governments’ conference in December.

The legislation won’t directly intersect with the looming issue of Minnesota’s resistance so far to complying with new federal “Real ID” requirements for driver’s licenses, Scott said. But Peterson said the nexus of issues around the security of personal information held in government databases concerns her.

“That makes a lot of moving parts at this point,” Peterson said, raising the question, “is it appropriate for the government to collect this data at all?”

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