Contact 5 Investigators uncover government workers abusing Florida's online DAVID system

Some call it 'Facebook for cops'

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - When you give your most private information to the State of Florida, you expect it to be safe.

Tens of thousands of people have access to your most personal information and the Contact 5 Investigators discovered, some of them are using it to check up on you, or even to steal identities.

They’re not computer hackers; they’re workers who are hired to protect you.

In a matter of seconds, they can find out not only where you live, but if you’re married, what your Social Security number is, even bank information.

Special Section: Protecting Your Digital Privacy

When state trooper Donna Watts pulled over a fellow officer for speeding, she followed the law.  After she arrested him, her attorney Mirta Desir said dozens of fellow officers broke the law.  They looked up her private information on what’s called the DAVID system.

“How many times was her information looked up, once or twice?” asked Contact 5 Investigator Dan Krauth.

“Ah, no, actually several hundred times,” said Desir.  “For non-police reasons,” she said.

The DAVID system is an online database police can use for their day to day jobs. For example, they use it to look up what a suspect looks like or to run a license plate.

It’s a crucial crime fighting tool.  But because of the abuses, some have another name for it.

“Facebook for cops, that’s how I’d describe it,” said former Martin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Salvatore Rastrelli.

Former Treasure Coast deputy Toni Foudy was known amongst law enforcement for her fairy tale good looks, according to Rastrelli.

"She's attractive, she was a Snow White character for Disney up in Orlando and I think that had a lot to do with it,” he said.

Dozens of fellow officers looked up her most private information hundreds of times.

“I was shocked, shocked,” said Desir.

Desir represents both Watts and Foudy and a dozen others.

“They’re using it say, look up the girl they think is interesting at the bank or they’re using it to find information about an ex and that’s not a proper use,” said Desir.

The Contact 5 Investigators discovered over the last three years, more than 40 law enforcement workers have been investigated from Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie County Sheriffs’ Offices for misusing the system.  The excuses ranged from mere “curiosity” to “political reasons.”

“The only thing I can think of is it’s perhaps a lot of officers out there with too much power at their fingertips and little fear of the consequences,” said former officer turned private investigator David Gregg.

It’s not just police who can tap into your private information.  So can workers from agencies across the state, from the tax collector’s office to county clerks.

“That requesting agency is really responsible for making sure it’s being used properly,” said Leslie Palmer, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is in charge of the system, but it’s pretty much up to agencies to police themselves.

“A red flag for me might be different than a red flag for somebody else,” said Palmer. “Without us knowing what their roles are we wouldn't know what that red flag would be,” she said.  The department recently enacted a policy to perform random audits for selected agencies every two to three years.

Prosecutors said there was no red flag when a Broward County Court Clerk employee was recently caught stealing Social Security numbers from the DAVID system to commit identity theft.

"These agencies need to put proper policies and procedures in place.” said Desir.

Anyone caught abusing the system can lose access to it or even face criminal charges.  But the Contact 5 Investigators discovered in a majority of local cases, they were given a reprimand or counseling. 

"I'm not going to speak to the punishments of different law enforcement agencies or other agencies, I can tell you what they have to tell us is that they've take some action to ensure it won't happen again," said Palmer.

All of the investigations the Contact 5 Investigators reviewed in South Florida were initiated only after the victims came forward or after receiving media attention, like Donna Watts.

"My clients knew something was off and they checked,” explained Desir.  “The thing is, if you don't check you'd never know,’ she said.

You can check with the state to see if your information has been accessed and who made the inquiry. 

In fact, the amount of people who checked last year tripled compared to past years.

You can send your request to:  DAVIDPublicRecordRequest@flhsmv.gov.   Any request should include your name, the tag or driver’s license number as well as a timeframe for the search.  The request could be free, or cost up to twenty dollars, depending on how much time it takes. 

 

 

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