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Fairfax Deputy Registrar office in Renville County shut down after employees illegally accessed driver and vehicle data

An audit by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Division found seven instances where two employees from the Fairfax Deputy Registrar office accessed private data without a lawful purpose.

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FAIRFAX — The Fairfax Deputy Registrar 's office has been closed after the only two employees had their access to driver and vehicle data revoked for illegally accessing driver and vehicle data, according to a Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Division news release.

According to the release, an audit found seven instances in which both users accessed Driver and Vehicle Services data without a lawful business purpose.

The West Central Tribune is not naming the deputy registrars who had their access revoked because they have not been formally charged with a crime.

"As a result, their access to DVS data has been permanently revoked, as required by law," reads part of the statement. Information about the misuse has been forwarded to the Renville County Attorney's Office.

A person who answered the Fairfax Registrar's office declined to comment when reached by the West Central Tribune.

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"If you got a news release, what more do you want," they said.

According to the release, the office is privately owned and operated and the office will need to close until other people can be hired, trained and authorized to access Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services data. In addition to vehicle title and registration services, the office is also a limited driver’s license agent.

"We take our work and customer data very seriously," said Emma Corrie, director of the Driver and Vehicle Services Division.

Corrie said the details accessed were either a self look-up or for family members and, while a Minnesota statute was broken, there was not nefarious intent and the public's data remain safe.

"Under the law, our hands are tied," she said. "We have to revoke access to the data."

Corrie stressed that the safety of the public's data is very important to the department, and staff are reminded quarterly about the proper use of the system. These statutes also apply to anyone who has access to this data, not just registrars.

"We're looking into and reviewing the matter," Renville County Attorney David Torgelson said.

Torgelson later wrote in an email that, as of Wednesday afternoon, his office had not received a formal criminal referral on the two employees involved. Director Corrie said the letter from her office about the incidents is in the mail.

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Offices closest to the Fairfax Deputy Registrar office that offer similar services are located in Sleepy Eye, New Ulm, Redwood Falls, Olivia, Springfield and Gaylord.

Three of the five employees of the North Mankato Deputy Registrar Office also had their access permanently revoked following the audit, which was triggered May 4 after an employee did a self-search on the system. The audit found a total of four employees had violated Minnesota statute by accessing Driver and Vehicle Services data without a lawful purpose.

One of those employees at the privately run registrar office is no longer employed at the office which leaves only two employees at the location.

According to the release, Minnesota law requires Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services 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.”

"While the law says access must be revoked 'immediately and permanently,' it does not state whether or not the person should be reassigned or their employment terminated. That is the decision of the employer," reads part of the release.

The law also requires Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services to forward the violations to the appropriate prosecuting authority for prosecution and both County Attorney's offices have had information about the misuse forwarded for review of possible criminal charges, according to the release.

Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services has taken action in several cases since the law went into effect in October of 2018. A total of 51 people, including employees at private companies and state employees, have been permanently revoked from having access to data.

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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