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MNLARS accidentally shares 1,500 motorists' private data with companies

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s troubled computer system for licensing vehicles accidentally shared information residents wanted kept private with three firms that buy vehicle data from the state.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety sent letters to 1,500 motorists at the end of December alerting them that names and addresses they requested to have kept private were “inadvertently sent to authorized users.” The firms use the data to administer safety recalls from automakers.

The information was sent to three companies — Experian, Polk and Safety First — as part of bulk files the state is required by law to provide the companies. The files include vehicle identification numbers, vehicle descriptions and names of lien holders in addition to names and addresses that residents can request be kept private.

The mistake is the latest slip up for the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, known as MNLARS, which has been bedeviled by problems since it launched 18 months ago.

State Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, a leader on the House transportation committee, was frustrated that the first time he learned of the mistake was from a constituent and not leaders at the public safety agency. Lawmakers from both parties spent much of the last Legislative session debating the best way to fix problems with MNLARS.

“A heads-up would have been helpful,” Torkelson said. “This isn’t the first time we have been kept in the dark as the Legislature.”

Torkelson said he was still waiting on detailed information about how the error occurred.

State Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate transportation committee, said they will probe the issue when the Legislature reconvenes next week.

“The illegal sharing of citizens’ data by the Department of Public Safety is a careless and unacceptable breach of the public trust,” Newman said. “Our government can, and must, do better.”

A Department of Public Safety spokesman said there is no evidence the data had been used improperly. He stressed the agencies that received the information are required to protect the data by state and federal law.

The department also noted that Minnesota Information Technology Services has made changes to the bulk files to remove information residents requested be kept private.