Minnesota’s data practices law – a look to the future

Posted by: on Oct 12, 2009 | No Comments

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 – Event Photos
4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Midtown Commons, 2324 University Ave West, St. Paul (just East of Raymond)
Women Venture meeting room
Free and convenient parking West of the Midtown Commons complex.

An open discussion of changing needs, many the result of technology. A chance to review the principles that undergird the state’s unique data practices law. Come prepared to share issues, experience, a vision of future challenges and practical suggestions for needed change.

Resource people, on hand to provide context and answer questions, include John R. Finnegan, Sr, Jane Kirtley, Kirsten Clark, Don Gemberling
& other members of the MnCOGI Board.

Learn more:

The Public’s Business: More People Are Knocking at the Door – Let Them In, by Jane Kirtley, 3/15/2009*.

Our Open-Government Laws Need to be Stronger and Clearer, by Jane Kirtley, 6/5/2009*.

* Articles posted with permission of the author, Jane Kirtley, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

COGI-tations are public forums sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.All COGI-tations are free and open to the public.

Minnesota’s Government Data Practices Act: A Primer

Posted by: on Jul 16, 2009 | No Comments

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Minnesota’s Government Data Practices Act : A Primer
Hint: It’s Not as Complicated As You Think!

Presenter: Don Gemberling – “Godfather” of Minnesota data practices

Minnesota’s data practices law is based upon openness to information by and about state and local government. Advocacy groups, citizen journalists, concerned citizens, bloggers and all concerned about access to government activities need to know their rights. Elected and appointed officials need to understand their responsibility to assure access. Don Gemberling knows the law and can clarify it for those who may be intimidated, confused or overwhelmed by a straightforward law based in the assumption of transparency. Attendees are encouraged to bring their government information horror stories for analysis and feedback.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Midtown Commons, 2324 University Ave West, St. Paul
(just East of Raymond)
Minnesota Council of Nonprofits conference room, Suite 20

COGI-tations are public forums sponsored by the
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.
All COGI-tations are free and open to the public.

Planning MnCOGI’s Transparency Inventory

Posted by: on Jun 8, 2009 | No Comments

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Planning MnCOGI’s Transparency Inventory moderated by Allan Malkis, Board member, Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Looking to hold a government agency accountable for the action it takes?
Discuss how to conduct an inventory of a state or local agency’s actions.

Thursday, June 25, 2009
6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
East Lake Library
2727 Lake Street (near Hiawatha)
Minneapolis

* * * *

Future COGI-tations

August 5, 2009
Don Gemberling
Introduction to Minnesota’s Data Practices Act

Late August/Early September, 2009
International Right to Know Day

COGI-tations are public forums sponsored by the
Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.
All COGI-tations are free and open to the public.

Jane Kirtley on Open Government Laws

Posted by: on Jun 8, 2009 | No Comments

With the NFOIC conference in town last week, Jane Kirtley penned an editorial on Freedom of Information and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

Here’s a flavor of the article (you can find the entire article online):

The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act — Minnesota’s version of the
Freedom of Information Act — is a lot like MSP airport. Thirty-odd years ago, in
those heady days after the Watergate scandal, when it seemed like everyone was
clamoring for greater oversight of government, Minnesota took its first stab at
drafting a simple statute that would guarantee public access to government data.
That law was about four pages long and easy for almost anyone to understand.
Government data was presumed to belong to the public.

But a lot has changed since then.

David Gillette’s on data practices

Posted by: on May 30, 2009 | No Comments

http://www.tpt.org/aatc/how_it_happens_data_practices

This is David Gillette’s Almanac cartoon – a fun way to learn about data practices in Minnesota.

Midwest Democracy Network’s Report Has Serious Problems

Posted by: on Apr 1, 2009 | No Comments

The Midwest Democracy Center’s recent report, Accessing Government: How difficult is it?, reflects what happens when you only look at a statute in trying to figure out what it does and particularly why it does what it does. Even with a statute based analysis, there are numerous mistakes in their description of what the statute says and does.

I also found it very strange that the authors spend quite a bit of time talking about the rules implementing the Data Practices Act. As the primary author of those rules, I take no great pleasure from that because the authors seem to believe that the rules were authored by the legislature. This is just one detailed example of why this report is bad and misleading.

The complexity of the Data Practices Act stems from three significant and primary legislative policy judgements.

First, the legislature decided that it would reserve to itself the authority to make all the decisions about whether data should or should not be public. It also decided those decision would be done in detail. This position on who classifies data was strongly urged on the legislature by the media community. People like John Finnegan, the former editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, were desperately trying to avoid having the courts make decisions based on a broad exemption system such as the federal FOIA.

Second, the legislature decided that our Act would also be a fair information practices and privacy statute. The latter being primarily a function of detailed decisions about what government data ought not be public. This adds a level of complexity to the DPA that is unlike other states and their foi statutes. However, it also gives to Minnesota citizens rights concerning access to data, limits on the data they provide to government and challenges to data that are not available in most other states in this country. For this reason, Minnesota has always received high rankings for the quality of its fair information practices protections.

Lastly, the legislature also retained to itself the authority to decide, at a detail level, issues of access to and dissemination of not public data. This adds to complexity because agencies and local governments must seek specific legislative enactments when they want to use and disseminate data.

In summary, when you strip out all of the detailed language in our DPA that deals with classifications of and use and dissemination of not public data, you are left with a statute that is not physically or conceptually any larger than most foi statutes. However, in other foi statutes, you must look to case law to see what the courts have said about detailed classifications of data as public or not public. On balance, when you add in the case law, you will find other states have the same level of complexity and physical size.

As Rich Neumeister, the 2008 Finnegan Award Winner, has said a number of times this past week, the Minnesota system is better because decisions about what should or should not be public have to be made in public and not behind the closed doors of a judge’s chambers. This is the very result John Finnegan and the rest of the media were trying to attain in the 1970’s.
However, there is a real problem with the process of the legislature making all decisions about closing data as that process currently operates. Simply put, there is little or no coverage of hearings by the media. At last week’s, Senate Subcommittee hearing there were lots of interesting issues discussed and debated. However to the best of my knowledge there were NO reporters in the room.

Be very careful with this report. I am going through this report line by line to identify detailed errors. The report makes recommendations about possible reforms to the Data Practices Act that I either do not understand or that miss the point. They did correctly identify that enforcement of the DPA is a problem. Suffice it to say, there have been recommendations by at least three study groups that Minnesota should establish a state office or commission whose primary job would be to work on issues of compliance. And, by such an office, I do not mean the current version of IPAD which is coming primarily a fee for service consulting shop for state agencies and which no longer appears to have a citizen centric perspective on information issues. However, there has not, so far, been the will in legislature to create, and more importantly, to properly fund such an office.

Don Gemberling, Secretary, MNCOGI Board

The debut of TAP MN

Posted by: on Mar 28, 2009 | No Comments

Eagle-eyed Todd Kruse brings this to our attention. The Minnesota Management & Budget Office launched its long-awaited web site to track state spending: the Transparency and Accountability Project for Minnesota (TAP MN) . TAP MN can also be used to track Minnesota’s use of federal stimulus dollars. State agencies and the public can request spending reports by agency, fund, category or vendor. Look for updates often. It will be interesting to compare this to the federal version of this database, www.usaspending.gov/.

Helen Burke, MNCOGI Chair

What’s the holdup for Minnesota’s database?

Posted by: on May 17, 2008 | No Comments

Todd Kruse’s crusade to have the sun shine in on Minnesota state government spending got some ink in a 5/16 Star Tribune editorial, “A blogger’s quest: Where’s the database?” Kruse seeks to have the Minnesota Department of Administration fully implement last year’s State Government and Omnibus Act. To comply with the 2007 Act, the state needs to create a database to track spending on contracts and grants.

Kruse is not alone in his quest. The National Taxpayer’s Union is one of several groups tracking similar developments on the state level on its site, www.showmethespending.com. Good for Todd Kruse and the National Taxpayer’s Union for their diligence in pursuing transparency in government.

What’s the holdup for Minnesota’s database? It’s not lack of software; it’s readily available. The Minnesota Department of Administration estimates the cost at $1 to $1.5 million, and cites lack of dedicated funding. The cost of such a database is not as high as the Department antidicpates. The federal government implemented software that tracked spending for ~$200K last year – a fraction of the state’s estimate.

Here’s the evolution of the database tracking software. In 2006, OMB Watch devised fedspending.org. In 2007, the federal government found it to be so compelling that it adopted it as its own. And so, usaspending.gov was born. The same software the feds use is – and has been – available to Minnesota. The mandate from the legislature is almost a year old. Only the data appears to be lacking. Could 2008 be the year MN gets its database to track its own spending?

Helen Burke, hburke@hclib.org

Keeping an Eye on MN Legislature

Posted by: on Feb 21, 2008 | No Comments

How and where Minnesota’s Congressional delegation working on Internet issues. Some interesting stories linked to each legislator’s name and locale. (Save the Internet)

A quick glimpse at legislative, judicial and regulatory realities in Minnesota, published by Free Press.
Note that Free Press will be holding their Media Reform Conference in Mpls June 6-8 2008. – Just as the title suggests, a look at who owns TV, radio, print media, the web, films and more.

McCollum Calls for Renewed Investigation of Data Tape Privacy Risks

Posted by: on Feb 15, 2008 | No Comments

Notes from the office of Congressman McCollum relating to Imation tape issue:

McCollum Calls for Renewed Investigation of Data Tape Privacy Risks
Tuesday, January 22, 2008 Imation recovers bank account numbers from used data devices that GAO deemed “a low security risk”