ORLANDO, FL – The case of a Florida state trooper having her private records illegally accessed by other law enforcement officials highlights a problem seen around the country. With the history of our lives readily available on government databases, that information sitting there, and the temptation to tap into that wellspring seems more than police officers and other officials can seem to resist.
Trooper Donna “Jane” Watts’ lawsuit filed in an Orlando federal court this past Friday is a prime example of misuse of government database information. Watt’s problems began when she pulled over and arrested a Miami police officer at gunpoint after she observed him swerving his car in and out of traffic at speeds up to 120 MPH.
According to the Sun Sentinel:
The Florida Highway Patrol trooper at the center of a firestorm after she pulled over a speeding cop at gunpoint said fellow law enforcement officers have created a “life-threatening” situation that caused her to be in such fear for her safety she has become a “hermit.”
Trooper Donna “Jane” Watts’ 69-page lawsuit, filed in federal court Friday, seeks more than $1 million in damages. She is suing more than 100 police officers and agencies, and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The suit alleges 88 law enforcement officers from 25 jurisdictions illegally accessed her personal information more than 200 times, violating her privacy.
Information illegally obtained by dozens of cops included Watt’s Social Security number, a detailed vehicle description, home address, and pictures. Since then she has received numerous threatening phone calls, vehicles idling in front of her home, and prank pizza deliveries.
The Orlando Sentinel reports:
Florida‘s driver-and-vehicle database, the system that can help law enforcement identify victims of fatal crashes and decipher the identity of a suspect, can be a useful tool for cops.
But the system — known as D.A.V.I.D., for Driving and Vehicle Information Database — can also be easily abused.
Data obtained by the Orlando Sentinel show the number of Florida law-enforcement officers suspected of misusing D.A.V.I.D. skyrocketed last year.
At least 74 law enforcers were suspected of misusing D.A.V.I.D. in 2012, a nearly 400 percent increase from 2011, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
But such incidents are not isolated to harassment of fellow law enforcement officers. Massive amounts of private information have been stolen by various government employees. In South Carolina, for example, a single phishing email compromised the personal information of hundreds of state tax payers between 1998 and 2002. Amazingly, much of the identity theft in that case was due to the fact that Social Security numbers were not even encrypted.
The problem is only bound to grow worse as ever-more data collection at the government level become a daily routine. Health care records are becoming increasingly centralized and federally regulated. If law enforcement can’t be trusted with our information, what can we expect from an army of bureaucrats?