Privacy Litigation Trending in Minnesota

In the age of the Internet and the rising awareness concerning privacy, laws are changing in Minnesota and nationally. Whether you are concerned about the future of your privacy or you believe you have suffered a privacy violation, knowing the law and your rights can help protect your personal information and data. Privacy laws may impact your rights concerning private phone conversations, your Internet usage, healthcare, information about your children, consumer data, as well as your credit history.

While the Constitution protects your right to privacy, legislators and courts can sometimes delay behind technological advancements. The National Security Administration (NSA) scandal is one example of the potentially illegal misuse of information via the Internet, cellphones and other new technologies. Although the Constitution gives broad authority to protect individual privacies, specific laws surrounding privacy rights have been more complicated, especially when involving Internet and public records. Not surprisingly, many of these privacy violations and intrusions are committed by government agencies and employees.

Several privacy lawsuits have been filed in Minnesota courts over the past year. In Wabasha County, 18 residents filed a lawsuit alleging that law enforcement and other government officials illegally accessed driver’s license data for political purposes. According to the lawsuit, individual driver’s license data, including addresses, photos and physical descriptions were illegally accessed at least 600 times. Under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, plaintiffs can recover $2,500 for each violation, which could lead to damages upwards of $1.5 million. Earlier in 2013, a Minnesota police officer sued several law enforcement agencies, including officers, cities, and commissions of the state Department of Public Safety for illegally accessing her information. Though some driver’s license information is available online, law enforcement officers are not supposed to access this information without good reason. The plaintiff alleged that many inquiries began around the time she was divorced and entered a body sculpting competition. In Minneapolis, 24 officers pulled her record 133 times. Several cities paid the officer $1 million to settle this lawsuit.

Another lawsuit has stemmed from the alleged misuse of database information by a former employee of the Department of Natural Resources. According to the report, the employee accessed records of 5,000 people, 90% of them women. Most recently, a KSTP-TV anchor and reporter and her husband filed a lawsuit alleging that her private driver’s license information was illegally searched approximately 1,380 times. The reporter is one of 20 named in the class action who recently sued local and state agencies for illegally obtaining private records from the Department of Public Safety. The federal statute provides for $2,500 for each violation, which could result in damages around $3.5 million for the couple.

The Privacy Act of 1974 concerns the collection, storage, and dissemination of personal information by federal government agencies. The Privacy Act prohibits disclosure of information of records absent written consent of individual and allows for damages in the event of violations. Though digital technology has enhanced our access to information, it has also created privacy risks, including identity theft. Private and public entities should be held accountable in the event of abuse. If you are concerned about a privacy violation, we want to hear from you. Our firm is dedicated to protecting the privacy rights of our clients and all residents of Minnesota - contact one of our attorneys to determine your rights.