Invasion of privacy: the illegal access of driver’s license information

It is not uncommon for police officers, county deputies and public employees to routinely abuse their search capabilities of law enforcement and driver’s license databases for their own thrill-seeking purposes. Through the years, there have been numerous cases in which they looked up private information on co-workers, family, neighbors, romantic partners and local personalities and entertainers.

Such an act is a clear invasion of privacy. Driver’s license records are protected by federal and state law, including the Minnesota Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. Law enforcement and public employees know when they are doing something wrong. And the misuse of law enforcement databases is such a situation because they obtain training on how to properly use the systems. Yet many continue to invade the privacy of others for questionable and even benign reasons.

Federal and state law protects you

These illegal acts are known to take place throughout the U.S. as people look for information that includes photographs, driving records, addresses and physical descriptions.

For example, a high-profile such case continues in Minnesota. In 2019, a federal jury awarded $585,000 to a female police officer with the Minneapolis Police Department after nearly 60 of her fellow officers improperly searched her driver’s license data close to 100 times. However, the Minneapolis Police Department appealed the decision. In March 2021, a federal judge ordered a retrial.

Also in Minnesota, state officials conducted audits from 2010 to 2012 and discovered that roughly 160 people – primarily employees of government agencies – illegally used its driver and vehicle services database. Here are some examples of the misuse discovered during those audits and other findings:

  • A court employee obtained her boyfriend’s driving record and photo, potentially violating a restraining order.
  • A law enforcement officer reviewed records of his ex-wife and the musician Prince.
  • Numerous people have filed lawsuits in the state pertaining to unlawful access to their personal records. That list includes attorneys, television news reporters and a former Miss Minnesota.

Privacy invaders have met with mixed and inconsistent consequences once caught. Some faced criminal misdemeanor charges, were suspended without pay or fired, while others merely temporarily lost access to the database.

If you are the victim of such unlawful database searches, you understand what it means to feel violated and suffer from emotional duress. Whether these people are doing it for suspicious reasons or not, it is still against the law and an invasion of privacy.