NORTH MANKATO — Three of the five employees of the North Mankato Deputy Registrar office in North Mankato have permanently lost access to driver and vehicle data after it was found they accessed several driver’s licenses and motor vehicle records without a lawful business purpose.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Division said in a press release that an employee at the Belgrade Avenue office did a self-search on May 4, which triggered an investigation.
“It is unlawful for a person with access to DPS-DVS data to perform a search on themselves or anyone else without a lawful business purpose,” the department stated.
Three of the four individuals are current employees, while the fourth is no longer an employee.
Joyce Hanson, owner of the private registrar office, said she will appeal the decision.
“We’re not criminals down here. This really upsets me. I’m appealing it.”
She said employees did license tab renewals for themselves, a mistake she thinks they should have simply gotten a warning about. “We weren’t looking up other people. We weren’t doing anything illegal.”
She said the office will remain open and able to do business. The employees who lost access to driver and vehicle data can still do other duties such as Department of Natural Resources licenses.
The remaining two employees can handle the other duties, she said.
The Public Safety Department said that state law requires them to “immediately and permanently revoke the authorization of any individual who entered, updated, accessed, shared or disseminated data in violation of state or federal law.”
The department forwarded its investigative information to the Nicollet County Attorney’s Office for review of possible criminal charges.
The department also revoked access for two employees of the privately owned Farifax Deputy Registrar office. They said an employee used another employee’s access credentials, which is not allowed under the law.
A further audit found seven instances where the two users accessed DVS data without a lawful business purpose.
Because the two individuals are the only employees of the Fairfax office, it will need to close until other individuals can be hired, trained and authorized.
The law passed in 2018 came about after several cases of police and state and local public employees improperly looking up driver’s license and other information.
In 2014, Twin Cities Fox 9 Morning News anchor Alix Kendall filed a lawsuit against several cities and counties, including in the Mankato area, accusing public employees of abusing their access to driver’s license information through a state database.
The lawsuit said her license information was accessed more than 3,800 times during a 10-year period.
Kendall’s lawsuit included alleged improper searches from the Mankato area including 23 searches by the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department, three searches by the Blue Earth County probation office, two searches by the Mankato Department of Public Safety, five searches by the Lake Crystal Police Department, 11 searches by the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Department, seven searches by the Le Sueur Police Department and eight searches by the New Ulm Police Department.
Kendall was ultimately awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars by several local governments, including Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Department of Public Safety said that since the law went into effect a total of 51 people, including employees at private companies and state employees, have been permanently revoked from having access to DPS-DVS data.