MPR to be named in data lawsuit

The CEO of Lookout Services, the Texas-based company that provided Minnesota officials with services to check on whether employees are eligible to work in the United States, says Minnesota Public Radio will be added to a lawsuit the company has filed against the state.

Elaine Morley told me today “they will be” when I asked if MPR would be a party to a lawsuit filed against the state (I wrote about this earlier today)

“It is our position that the state of Minnesota and Minnesota Public Radio made confidential information available in violation of federal law,” she said. She said a copy of the suit, filed in state court but which she expects will be moved to federal court, would be provided shortly.

Minnesota Public Radio reporter Sasha Aslanian found confidential data from state officials posted on the company Web site, and reported the story on Friday.

“The real story we see here is under what circumstances a reporter can breach the law,” Morley said, citing a Supreme Court case she identified as Cohen vs. Cowen (I have not yet found the case file ).

She said she’s requesting MPR turn over documents to reveal “what they viewed or accessed by 5 p.m.”

Unclear, however, is what the complaint against the state involves. “Why would the state be charged with illegally accessing data when they’re one of your customers?” I asked Morley.

“People can guess passwords,” she said.

“But why would they have to if they’re one of your customers,” I asked.

Morley said the answer is technical and would be provided when she had more time to speak.

A few minutes ago, MPR News Director Mike Edgerly issued a response:

We are aware of Lookout Services allegations concerning an investigative report by MPR’s Sasha Aslanian. Sasha’s story exemplified good, solid reporting and we stand by it.

Update 2:15 p.m. – The complaint against the state names State Auditor Rebecca Otto, and Department of Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson. It alleges a breach of contract.

Update 2:26 p.m. – It’s possible that the Supreme Court case mentioned above is Cohen v. Cowles Media. In that case, a campaign worker sued the Star Tribune for identifying him as a source for a story, even though the paper had promised anonymity. The court ruled the First Amendment doesn’t protect the media against such suits.

  • MR

    They didn’t claim to block the state’s user accounts (which is presumably what she meant with the “passwords” line), they claimed to block IP addresses that were associated with the state of MN.

  • BJ

    “Morley said the answer is technical and would be provided when she had more time to speak.”

    Legal translation: I will never tell you because someone in IT tried explaining it to me and I have no Idea what they were talking about.

    IT said to legal: The state of minnesota didn’t have a requirement of strong passwords so anyone could guess them.

    Lowly IT worker bee: I didn’t build the system to require strong passwords and parts of the system are not secure at all becuase I should not have really gotten this job and did not know what I was doing. Management didn’t know I didn’t know because they were to trying to get most ROI and computer secuirity is actually very hard.

  • matt

    Cohen vs. Cowles. I think I remember something along those lines from some website with a panel of journalists. That’s about as vague of a memory as I can get.

    Anyways, as I posted on MinnPost… Why do companies react in a way which angers the Internet? Not smart.