Sheriff’s Office Deception Hindered Public Access

Posted by: on Jul 27, 2017 | No Comments

Governments slow to release public records often claim they need extra time to locate the information. To counter that excuse, the Minnesota Legislature’s Data Practices Act requires governments to keep records “in such an arrangement and condition as to make them easily accessible for convenient use.”

Instead, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office took a step in the opposite direction: concocting a deceptive digital record to make public access more difficult.

Tony Webster, a public records advocate, stumbled on that effort when he asked the sheriff’s office for emails and other data concerning law enforcement activities. He got more than he bargained for.

“I have cleverly scrambled the letters in the client program acronym to avoid reading this e-mail on the internet,” read a December email from David Freeman, IT Development Supervisor in the sheriff’s office.

The email referred to a mobile fingerprint initiative called Integrated Biometric Identification System, or IBIS. But Freeman changed that acronym in the email to SIIB, hindering anyone searching for information on IBIS.

“They’re mocking the Data Practices Act,” Webster said.

MNCOGI asked Freeman why he tried to obscure the email and if it was part of a broader practice in the sheriff’s office. He did not respond.

Mark Thompson, assistant county administrator for public safety, said the county is aware of the “easily accessible” requirement. “Hennepin County does not have any policies or practices to scramble letters in emails, so that the emails are more difficult to locate. Relevant staff have been informed that it is not proper to do so.”

After Webster asked about the meaning of the Freeman email, an administrator in the sheriff’s office clarified that it referred to IBIS.

MNCOGI wanted to know if Sheriff Richard Stanek was aware of the scrambled email before or after it was written, and whether he understood it to be a violation of the law. Stanek didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment. His spokesman, Jon Collins, said, “I will look into this and get back to you.” He didn’t respond further.

The public needs to fully understand the debate over body camera policy

Posted by: on Apr 28, 2015 | No Comments

On April 27th, a letter from MNCOGI’s Gary Hill about police body camera data ran in the Star Tribune newspaper. Find the link here.  The text is below.

The public needs to fully understand the debate over body camera policy

Body-worn police cameras are being used more and more frequently, and legislators are currently grappling with how to classify “body cam” data in order to determine what should be public or private.

The debate over body camera policy has become needlessly complicated because some policy advocates are seeking legislative action without a comprehensive understanding of the status of body camera video under existing law.

For instance, the Coalition for Battered Women recently urged the Legislature to declare nearly all body cam data off-limits to the public, saying secrecy is needed to protect the privacy of victims of sexual assault. Police unions also have cited crime victims in arguing for broad restrictions on public access to body cam data. But much data — including video recordings — on victims of sexual assault or other crimes are private under existing state law.

Closing off public access to most body camera data is unnecessary to protect victim privacy, and would have the effect of hiding video related to police accountability. Controversies over recent shootings by law enforcement underscore the need for better documentation of police response, and body cameras are seen as a way to do so. But the cameras’ potential will never be realized if the public is barred from viewing the video.

MNCOGI: Minnesota should create legislative commission on data practices

Posted by: on Apr 8, 2014 | No Comments

The Star Tribune recently ran an editorial penned by MNCOGI chair Gary Hill regarding the group’s support for a legislative commission on data practices and data privacy.

The commission idea was initially brought forward by Representative Mary Liz Holberg, a Lakeville Republican who has long been considered the legislature’s resident expert on data issues.  Senate support for the idea started with DFL Senator Scott Dibble of Minneapolis.

Holberg’s hope for the commission is to allow the legislature a better, more deliberative forum for the discussion of complex data policy matters, outside of the time crunch of the regular legislative session.

MNCOGI has testified on behalf of the House and Senate versions of the bill before several committees, and the respective bills are now awaiting action on the floor of the legislature.

Encouraging words about open data from Minneapolis

Posted by: on Feb 3, 2014 | No Comments

By James Eli Shiffer, MNCOGI board member and the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor

Last month, Minneapolis’s Chief Information Officer, Otto Doll, convened a meeting with open data advocates to talk about how to get more city data into the public’s hands. I’m encouraged to see these kinds of overtures from public officials, and it’s clearly a response to the movement of civic-minded hackers who are changing the whole conversation about public records. Doll started the meeting by acknowledged that despite its progressive image, Minneapolis is way behind most major cities in providing regular access to electronic records. My Strib colleague Eric Roper covered the meeting as part of his Sunday story about the open data movement. Roper’s story noted that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will host a “Capitol Code Open Data Jam” Feb. 22. The office describes it as an event “for citizens to use accessible public datasets to create new technology solutions that can stimulate business ideas — such as smartphone applications or websites.”

Too many public officials are reluctant to release data because they worry the public will misuse or misinterpret it. It’s refreshing to see officials offering access to data as a way to improve government’s performance and make society better. Let’s make them follow through on it.

Rejection by redaction: Seven months and waiting

Posted by: on Jan 9, 2014 | No Comments

From James Eli Shiffer, MNCOGI board member and the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor

When public officials take forever to fulfill records requests, one of the most common excuses is that they need to redact information that’s not public. Under Minnesota law, they can’t charge for the time spent redacting, but the process can result in long delays in handing over records that are undeniably public. Star Tribune staff writer Eric Roper told the story of how he is still waiting for public records that he requested from the city of Minneapolis seven months ago.  The city’s explanation? The time has been spent redacting documents that fill a “banker’s box.”

MNCOGI draft of traveling law enforcement data bill

Posted by: on Nov 14, 2013 | No Comments

The MNCOGI board recently approved its draft of a possible “traveling law enforcement data” bill at its November 11th meeting.  The draft language creates a classification scheme for law enforcement data entering Minnesota from other states, and sets out the following results:

1.  Data that is already public in another state would remain public when transferred to Minnesota;

2.  Data that is already classified as “not public” data in another state would remain “not public” in Minnesota for a period of one year.  After that time it would become public data in Minnesota, unless the data became part of a Minnesota criminal investigation.

MNCOGI’s language would also require that agencies keep a public log with details about the “traveling law enforcement data” coming into their possession.  Finally, bi-annual audits would be required to ensure that “traveling” data that became part of a Minnesota criminal investigation met the threshold for “criminal investigative data” as set out by state law.

The draft bill has been shared with the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, as part of ongoing talks about this issue.  Watch this space for more updates on this process.

– Matt Ehling, MNCOGI board member

 

MNCOGI, MN Chiefs of Police Association in talks about traveling data

Posted by: on Oct 10, 2013 | No Comments

Non-Minnesota police entities prepare and disseminate “threat assessment” and other “criminal intelligence” information to Minnesota law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and its component MNJAC (the Minnesota Joint Analysis Center). Such data are often utilized in support of crime and terrorism prevention, and can consist of reports on individuals or groups who are believed to pose a threat to public safety.

The classification of this type of data in Minnesota has been in dispute for some time, as some of it does not fit neatly within the existing law enforcement data sections of Chapter 13. In addition, certain non-Minnesota law enforcement entities have reportedly been hesitant to share some of this data with Minnesota agencies, expressing concerns that the data might become public under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Civil libertarians and political activists have also raised questions about the content of some criminal intelligence data.  They have expressed concerns that the inappropriate use of such data could have a chilling effect on the constitutionally protected activities of individuals or political organizations.  Since 2009, three bills addressing criminal intelligence data have been introduced in the Minnesota legislature, but none have passed.

Recently, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) approached MNCOGI about working together to craft a narrow bill that addressed state-to-state “traveling” data – including criminal intelligence data – while setting aside any larger discussions about criminal intelligence data generated by Minnesota agencies until another time.  MNCOGI has agreed to prepare the first draft of a bill that would address data coming into Minnesota from law enforcement entities in other states.  Formal talks began earlier this month, and are ongoing.

Efforts at crafting criminal intelligence bills require multiple stakeholders.  The traveling data discussion will solict input from all parties as it moves forward.  MNCOGI is also presenting updates about this process on its blog.  Find the minutes of the first meeting between MNCOGI and MCPA representatives here, and watch this space for more updates.

IPAD’s message to the Star Tribune: We help keep government open

Posted by: on Sep 13, 2013 | No Comments

From James Eli Shiffer, MNCOGI board member and the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor

This week, two dozen Star Tribune journalists launched polite questions at Stacie Christensen and Janet Hey of the Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD), the state agency that weighs in on conflicts over public records and open meetings. I invited them to visit the Strib after hearing they had done a similar presentation to Minnesota Public Radio. They’ve also visited the Pioneer Press, and after their visit to the Star Tribune, most of us came away convinced that Stacie and Janet are committed to helping journalists and the public keep government open.

The last state in which I practiced journalism, North Carolina, didn’t have anything like IPAD, so I didn’t know at first whether they were friend or foe in getting government officials to obey the law. Here’s what I took away from their presentation on the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act:

Presumption of openness: The MGDPA has a presumption that all records are public, except in two areas: personnel records and police records. For those categories, records are non-public unless specified.

Access to records: Government agencies must allow free inspection of public records, no matter what form they’re in. Anyone requesting public records doesn’t have to say who they are or why they want the records.

Proprietary data: There’s no such designation in the MGDPA, so if any agency or contractor invokes that phrase to try to withhold records, it’s bogus.

Incentives: One explanation for officials’ reluctance to release records is that there are more penalties for releasing private data than there are for withholding public data.

Records retention policy: Ask for it! Every agency has to have one. And it’s illegal for an agency to destroy a public record after someone has requested it, even if the retention policy allows them to do it.

Call them: IPAD staff are willing to mediate disputes over records, and sometimes even participate in conference calls to advise government agencies and records requesters about what the law requires. You can reach IPAD at Phone: 651-296-6733 or 800-657-3721 or info.ipad@state.mn.us

House Civil Law Committee to hear HF 20 on January 22

Posted by: on Jan 21, 2013 | No Comments

The Civil Law Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives will hear testimony related to HF 20, Representative Freiberg’s bill relating to e-mail addresses submitted to governmental entities for “notification or informational purposes.”  HF 20 would make such data “private data on individuals.”  Currently, such data is public.

The committee hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:15am in the basement hearing room of the State Office Building.

Minnesota Legislature – Data Practices bills introduced January 16

Posted by: on Jan 21, 2013 | No Comments

SF No. 43 – The bill would amend Chapter 13 so that “Government data of a political subdivision on requests for notices of services or activities of a political subdivision” would be “private data on individuals or nonpublic data.”

SF No. 60 – The bill is the Senate companion to HF No. 20.  The bill proposes to keep e-mail addresses submitted to government entities “not public.”