Complaint: City employees illegally accessed DMV records

The city of Princeton has been named a defendant in a $2 million lawsuit alleging that its employees illegally accessed the private data of a former attorney for a police officers union.

The lawsuit, filed April 12 in Olmsted County, names 26 counties and 70 cities. It alleges that more than 300 law enforcement officials accessed the private information of Brooke Bass more than 750 times over an eight-year period.

“Officers employed by, licensed by or otherwise accessing through the city of Princeton impermissibly accessed Bass’ private data three times,” according to court records in suit Bass v. Anoka County et al.

The city has forwarded the complaint to the League of Minnesota Cities, which will represent it in the matter, said Princeton City Administrator Mark Karnowski. The League of Minnesota Cities is also representing the city in a similar lawsuit filed in 2012.

The city of Princeton was named in a 2012 lawsuit, Rasmusson v. city of Bloomington, et al, in which 140 law enforcement personnel were accused of illegally accessing the driver’s license records of St. Paul Police Officer Anne Marie Rasmusson. That suit alleged that Rasmusson’s records were accessed once by Princeton personnel. In that case, Department of Vehicle Services records showed that a Princeton officer accessed Rasmusson’s records in 2006. The city argued that the named officer was not employed by the city and that the Internet Protocol address used to access the records does not match any devices at the Princeton Police Department. The city of Princeton was not able to identify why the officer appeared on a DVS audit of Rasmusson’s records, the suit alleges. However, the last name of the officer was the same as an officer on the Princeton Police Department. Only the first name was different, court records state. Furthermore, the suit alleges that the Department of Public Safety attributed the data access to the Princeton officer.

“It is anticipated that discovery will show either that the city of Princeton is incorrect or that DPS failed to accurately track this access of Rasmusson’s private information,” Rasmusson v. city of Bloomington states.

In Bass v. Anoka County, Brooke Bass is seeking $2 million in compensatory damages and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury. She states that she has suffered emotional distress and feels she has lost any control over the privacy in her life, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, Bass began having suspicions that law enforcement officers were inappropriately accessing her information in February of this year. She contacted DPS to inquire whether officers had been viewing her private information.

“On Feb. 19 she was shocked and disgusted to learn from DPS that it had determined that law enforcement officers from approximately 110 different departments and agencies had reviewed her private data since 2005,” the lawsuit states.

“Individual defendants used Bass’ name, not her license plate number, to look up her private, personal information,” the complaint continues.

The complaint states that the names of the individual defendants are not presently known and cannot be revealed under Minnesota’s Data Practices Act. However, it is anticipated that the names will become known through the discovery process of the lawsuit.

Other area communities are also named in Bass vs. Anoka County: Benton County officials allegedly accessed Bass’ data 13 times; Sherburne County, 12 times; and Morrison County, once.