by SARAH SQUIRES and
They say it happened after they were politically active — after they had written letters to the editor, challenged government officials, or put themselves on the ballot for elected office. Several on the list hold elected seats themselves, and in a lawsuit filed this week in United States District Court, 18 Minnesotans claim government officials illegally obtained their private driver’s license data as a means to discredit members of the group.
The lawsuit claims that a host of municipal and state government officials, including those employed by the city of Winona and Winona County, violated the petitioners' rights to privacy afforded under the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), as well as under state laws protecting citizens from invasion of privacy. According to court documents, data on the individuals was illegally obtained over 600 times since 2003, and included dates of birth, driver's license numbers, addresses, driver's license photos, weights, heights, Social Security numbers, various health and disability information, and organ donor instructions.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski is among the 18 plaintiffs, as were several current and former Wabasha County Board members and family members of the elected officials. Drazkowski, along with his wife, Laura, and daughter, Kinsey, had their personal information searched more than 100 times by Wabasha County officials, state officials, and others — including city of Winona and Winona County officials — alleges the suit.
According to court documents, many of those targeted were members of a citizen political group active in Wabasha County. Members of the group, including several Wabasha County Board members, have filed civil lawsuits against the county in recent years. Wabasha County Commissioner Deb Roschen, along with James Roschen and Megan Roschen, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Roschen said her trust in government, her feelings of safety, and her family's security had been violated. "Why are they poring over data about my daughter and husband?" she asked. "Who is holding these people accountable?"
Drazkowski stated that trends in the evidence make it very clear that the data was sought for political reasons. There were conservatives, moderates, and more liberal people who have reportedly been victims of these illegal inquiries. After receiving his records from the Department of Public Safety, Drazkowski noticed there was a clearly recognizable, but illegal source of interest. “What tipped the scale was my wife and daughter being targeted, too,” Drazkowski said. He described the act of illegally searching his data as being "pinged." “My personal data was pinged 95 times; my wife and daughter were pinged 38 times, and that was after removing what could be considered legitimate data accesses such as driver license renewals,” Drazkowski explained.
Drazkowski has hopes this lawsuit will create what he believes are necessary changes to statute. He advocates for consequences for those who violate the law. Drazkowski also wants to create reform in the system, making it both more transparent and more secure.
Other plaintiffs included in the lawsuit are: Wabasha County Commissioner Dave Harms, former Wabasha County Commissioner Merl Norman and Anna Mae Norman, Beverly and Jerry Snow, Jerry Gelao, John and Donna Adams, Virginia Kautz, Julie Porcher, and Marlin and Karen Graves.
Winona County Sheriff Dave Brand said information from his department on the case had been submitted to the county's attorney; Winona Police Department officials could not be reached for comment on this story before the Winona Post went to press Friday.