A Great Keynote at the 2013 Freedom of Information Day Event – Some Notes

Posted by: on Mar 29, 2013 | No Comments

Judge Kathleen Gearin gave a robust argument for allowing the televising of court proceedings in civil and criminal cases in Minnesota, a position developed over the past ten years.  She said her personal experience with cameras in her courtroom has been only positive.  For example, the televised hearings during the 2011 state government shutdown helped the public understand the process.

She noted many reasons that judges and lawyers oppose opening up courtrooms to televised coverage.  Judges are afraid of the unknown, and many are uncomfortable with public speaking.  They are afraid that single sentences may be broadcast out-of-context, that cameras will bring more publicity to cases, and that it will be more difficult for juries.  Judges and attorneys will play to the cameras. Witnesses don’t want to be seen as snitches.  Minnesota has a collegial bench, and some judges don’t want to be considered  oddballs, or “hot dogs.”

To counter those arguments, Judge Gearin said that in practice judges quickly forget that the camera is even there, and the media have been respectful of the privacy of juries and witnesses.  During the question and answer period someone asked whether there is a particular state that allows cameras in the courtroom that would be a good model for Minnesota.  Her matter-of-fact response was that all the states allowing cameras in the courtroom are fine models.

Judge Gearin feels that a successful move to full use of cameras in the courtroom in civil and criminal cases will require broad acceptance in the legal community, and that the legal culture in Minnesota is slowly changing.

I recommend watching all of Judge Gearin’s interesting and thoughtful remarks, available here.

Robbie LaFleur

Pictures and Video from the 2013 Finnegan Award

Posted by: on Mar 25, 2013 | No Comments

MNCOGI’s 2013 Freedom of Information Day presentation

Judge Kathleen Gearin

MNCOGI Chair Helen Burke and John R. Finnegan Jr.

John R. Finnegan Jr.

John R. Finnegan Jr. presents the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award to Michele Timmons.

MNCOGI’s 2013 Freedom of Information Day award

Michele Timmons accepts the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award.


Video from The UpTake

Updates on MNCOGI legislative activity

Posted by: on Mar 5, 2013 | No Comments

HF 5 – Health care exchange bill.  MNCOGI testified about the bill’s data provisions, as did many others.  The House version of the bill (which passed on March 4th) had been altered to make its meeting provisions more closely conform to the Open Meeting law.  Language regarding data sharing with the federal government had also been somewhat tightened over the initial version of the bill.  The Senate version of the bill does not currently contain these modifications and improvements.

HF 20/SF 60 – Bills exempting certain personal e-mails from disclosure under the Data Practices Act.  MNCOGI offered testimony about both bills, advocating for a public classification for such e-mail data.  Neither the House or Senate has voted on either bill as of yet.

SF 385 – License Plate Reader (LPR) data classification.  MNCOGI testified at a hearing on the Senate version of the bill.  On Feb 28, amendments were offered to allow LPR data to be retained and classified as “not public” for 45 days.  The original language of the Senate bill would have required the destruction of much “non-hit” LPR data upon acquisition.  At present, the House has not heard testimony on the companion bill.

Bill introductions – Minnesota Legislature March 4-5

Posted by: on Mar 5, 2013 | No Comments

The following bills regarding Data Practices and Open Meeting Law issues were introduced in the Minnesota legislature on March 4 and 5:

HF 1197

Legislative auditor shall conduct audits of information and data systems supported by public funds

HF 1219

Meetings of the Metropolitan Airports Commission that are, in the opinion of the commissioners, likely to have broad public interest, must be held outside of the airport security area.

Bill introductions – Minnesota Legislature Feb 20-28

Posted by: on Mar 5, 2013 | No Comments

The following bills were introduced that dealt with Data Practices, Open Meeting Law, and general open government issues:

HF No. 723

Data contained on an event data recorder are “personal data” of the owner of the motor vehicle, and shall not be retrieved except in seven circumstances, including after the presentation of a warrant.  No person may alter or delete data after an accident, unless a “reasonable amount of time” has passed since the accident.

HF 798

Certain data maintained as part of the mileage-based user fees test are classified as nonpublic or private data, including names of participants, applications of the purchase or rental of GPS devices, and road usage data.

Classifying certain contract information related to Department of Transportation projects.

HF 809

Repealing the administrative remedy for Data Practices violations through the Office of Administrative Hearings.  The District Court remedy remains.

SF No 638

Data maintained by the Department of Administration that identifies an individual with a disability relative to certain services is private data.

SF No 681

Broadening the definition of data classified as “security information” to include the mailing addresses, e-mail addresses, and GPS locations of members of a crime prevention program.

SF No 745

Existing library user data classifications cover data held by vendors who are providing electronic data services under contract with a library.

SF No 810

Data on applicants, users, and customers of public transit collected by the Met Council are private data.

SF No 822

Conference committee negotiations must be open to the public; meetings between the senate majority leader and the speaker of the house to negotiate the state budget must be open to the public.

Data Practices/Open Meeting law bills – Minnesota Legislature Feb 14-18

Posted by: on Mar 5, 2013 | No Comments

HF No. 584

The bill would modify Minnesota Statutes 13.72 to classify data on “applicants, users, and customers” of public transit collected by the Metropolitan Council as “private data on individuals.”

HF No. 604

The bill would amend Minnesota Statutes 13.43 Subd. 2 to include a broader definition of those “public employees” subject to data disclosures under Chapter 13.  The definition would add “heads or directors of departments, divisions, bureaus, or boards; and any employee that supervises or manages three or more employee” and “athletic directors; chief financial officers; directors, assistant directors, or associate directors whose duties include at least 50 percent time in administration, personnel, supervision, evaluation, or curriculum.”

HF No. 621

Data maintained by the Department of Administration that identifies an individual with a disability, or a family member of the same are private data.

HF 653

The Open Meeting Law would not prohibit members of a public body from participating in a social media forum, but no votes could be taken by means of a social media forum.

HF 695

Existing library user data classifications cover data held by vendors who are providing electronic data services under contract with a library.

SF 433

Access to drivers’ license photos by coroners or medical examiners established.

SF 527

The Open Meeting Law would not prohibit members of a public body from participating in a social media forum, but no votes could be taken by means of a social media forum.  Senate companion to HF 653.

Send in Your Nomination for the Freedom of Information Award

Posted by: on Feb 18, 2013 | No Comments

MNCOGI is seeking nominations for the annual John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award.  Send in your nomination by March 1 for a worthy individual or group or organization working to promote government information and increase transparency.  (form: WORD, pdf)  For inspiration, here is a list of former FOI award recipients.

This week, Ruben Rosario from the Pioneer Press highlighted the work of a prior award winner in “Meet Rich Neumeister, the People’s Activist.”

Rich Neumeister received the FOI Award in 2009.  He still fills his watchdog role at the Capitol, working on his own dime to track data practices and privacy legislation.  The lively profile includes a description of how Rich gained the trust of legislators over the years.

Depending on whom you talk to, Neumeister is an annoying pain in the butt or an indefatigable watchdog who has helped legislators massage laws to better protect privacy rights as well as makegovernment more transparent over the years.  Two straight-shooting and veteran lawmakers I respect attest to the latter.

“Rich is an asset at the Capitol,” said Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, an eighth-term legislator and member of the House Data Practices subcommittee. “He represents the average citizen and is often battling against the interests of organizations with highly paid lobbyists. He is respectful, knowledgeable and provides a vital perspective on keeping government accountable while protecting individuals’ privacy rights.”

Neumeister said he still has to pass the “weird guy” test annually with rookie lawmakers. That included Rep. Michael Paymar during his early years at the Legislature.

“I wasn’t sure if he was a black-helicopter guy or a good- government guy,” recalled Paymar, DFL-St. Paul. “While his points usually seemed legitimate, he didn’t look like the lobbyists I had been used to dealing with.”

Throughout the years, though, “my respect for Rich grew, in part because of the way he handled himself, but also he really knew what the hell he was talking about, and he understands the intent of the law,” added Paymar, who is serving his ninth term in the House and chairs its Public Safety Finance and Policy committee.

“When a data privacy bill comes up, I wait to hear from Rich.”

An Interview You May Have Missed

Posted by: on Feb 15, 2013 | No Comments

MNCOGI board member and spokesperson Don Gemberling was featured on “Almanac at the Capitol” on January 30. Mary Lahammer’s interview with Don (which begins at 18 minutes, 20 seconds into the program) was part of a segment on data privacy concerns at the Capitol.  Hear Don’s comments about the importance of training in state and local government to avoid privacy breaches. He also mentions the possibility of creating a statewide commission to deal with ongoing complex issues of data practices and government access.

Minnesota Legislature – Data Practices bill Feb 11

Posted by: on Feb 11, 2013 | No Comments

The following Data Practices-related bill will be introduced in the Minnesota State Senate on February 11, 2013:

SF No. 385.  LPR data to be classified as “confidential” or “protected nonpublic” data if either a vehicle, its owner, or an occupant is the subject of an open criminal investigation.

Other LPR data must be destroyed if it does meet the criteria above, or else destroyed at the time that an active investigation is closed, if charges are not filed.  Law enforcement agencies using LPR devices must maintain a log of the locations of their LPR units, the times of day when those readers collect data, and the aggregate number of vehicles/plates recorded.  All such “log” data is to be classified as public data.

Minnesota Legislature – Data Practices bills introduced Jan 28-Feb 7

Posted by: on Feb 8, 2013 | No Comments

The following bills relating to the Minnesota Data Practices Act were introduced in the Minnesota Legislature between January 28th and February 7th, 2013:

HF No. 183   The responsible authority of a government agency shall establish procedures to ensure that data on individuals is accurate, and to establish safeguards for data access.  Criminal penalties are established for unauthorized access to data; notice and reporting provisions are established.

SF No. 211   The responsible authority of a government agency shall establish procedures to ensure that data on individuals is accurate, and to establish safeguards for data access.  Criminal penalties are established for unauthorized access to data; notice and reporting provisions are established.

SF No. 210  LPR data is classified as “private data on individuals” or “nonpublic data.”  LPR data must be destroyed within 24 hours unless the data identify a stolen vehicle, a vehicle owner in warrant status, or the data are active investigative data.

MNCOGI has taken a public position regarding the status of LPR data.  Find out more on our 2013 Legislative Issues page.