Archived Story

Lost privacy should be of concern to citizens

Published 9:00am Friday, April 12, 2013 Updated 11:01am Friday, April 12, 2013

Any Minnesotan who values his or her privacy should be paying close attention to the stream of news reports about instances in which state employees have perused supposedly private data from the driver’s license data base. Any Minnesotan concerned about personal privacy ought to be asking for action to protect that privacy. Although last year’s bungled effort to fund a Vikings stadium is probably more interesting to many lawmakers, state officials’ egregious trampling of privacy laws ought to be getting more attention at the Capitol this year.

The most recent report is that the driver’s license data of a former lawyer for a police union was accessed more than 700 times.

If accurate, that volume of traipsing through personal data exceeds anything that could have been necessary for legitimate purposes; clearly, someone — or many someones — with access to the driver’s license database was digging into the private life of this lawyer. While that is the latest privacy invasion news, it is only one of many such that have spawned federal lawsuits against the state.

Lawmakers could end privacy invasion and reduce the state’s exposure to huge civil suit losses by toughening penalties for officials who abuse their access to private data. Putting tough criminal penalties in place, and ensuring that prosecutors enforce those penalties, would seem to be a simple and effective step.

As the state collects more and more data on Minnesotans — there’s a plan in the works to track the locations and mileage of every car in the state — the need to keep that data private becomes ever more urgent.

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