The deputy registrar's office in Fairfax, Minn., is closed and its two employees are off the job after they accessed drivers' motor vehicle records without an authorized purpose, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

In an unrelated case in North Mankato, three employees at a deputy registrar's office were stripped of their ability to access Department of Vehicle Services (DVS) data after an audit found they looked up several driver's license and motor vehicle records — including their own records — without a lawful purpose, a DVS spokesman said Wednesday. The audit also found unauthorized access by a fourth person, who already had left the registrar's office.

The employees who misused the data were notified by letter Tuesday that their ability to access DVS data had been permanently suspended in accordance with state law, and that their cases have been sent to the city or county attorney to review for possible charges.

The Star Tribune generally does not name individuals until they are charged.

"We don't think there was any nefarious purpose or ill-intent" in any of the cases, said Emma Corrie, director of DVS. The employees were looking up information on friends and family members.

"The situation is truly unfortunate, but the law is black and white, it's clear and straightforward," she said.

Corrie added that drivers can be assured DVS goes to great lengths to safeguard data.

Deputy registrar offices are key to serving Minnesotans and are an essential partner in providing driver services, Corrie said. The Fairfax office has been a part of the state's network for more than 40 years, which makes the breach there "hard for us," she said. Her office will support Fairfax if it reopens with new employees.

A total of 51 state employees and contractors have lost the right to access DVS data since a law requiring revocation went into effect in October 2018.

The law requires DVS to "immediately and permanently" revoke the authorization of anybody who "entered, updated, accessed, shared or disseminated data" in violation of state or federal law.

The Fairfax office will remain closed until new employees can be hired, trained and authorized to access DVS data, the agency said.

It was not immediately clear how the revocations would affect operations in North Mankato, which now has two employees to process transactions such as driver's license applications, registrations and vehicle titles.

DVS reminds system users about the law restricting accessing to data in quarterly e-mails and annually requires them to acknowledge the policy to keep data secure.

In Fairfax, one employee used another worker's credentials to search records, which triggered an audit that detailed who searched which records and when. The findings showed the two employees searched DVS data without a legitimate purpose seven times between February and May, DVS said.

An employee in North Mankato who looked up themselves in May triggered an audit. DVS then discovered four others improperly accessed data between November 2020 and May. Three users had their privileges revoked. A fourth no longer worked for the office, DVS said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768