Sunday, January 15, 2017

Mr. N goes to Washington

I have been coming to Washington DC since 1972.  When I first came to the District of Columbia, Richard Nixon was President, there were demonstrations in the streets about the war, the Vietnam War; environmental issues started to get the whole attention of Congress with the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972 (later in the year); Watergate had not happened yet; and J Edgar Hoover was still alive.

Man, time has gone fast.  I have come to the City to work, live, and visit over the last 45 years and still inspired and excited to be here.  But, to where I can have the most impact on policies and laws it is at the local and state level.  That is where my heart is. Yes, Mr. Neumeister has come to Washington for another time.  But the purpose is to teach people about the possibilities they can have to make a difference.  I know they can.......

Monday, December 12, 2016

Secrecy of Stingray tracking of Minnesotan's is because of ignorance, carelessness, or complicity

A step to bring more sunshine and accountability to rapid new and secret technology used by law enforcement to the public and Minnesota Legislature has fallen short.  It was more of a document of bewilderment rather than anything else.

By statute every two years the Minnesota Court Administrator's office must file a report to the Minnesota Legislature about electronic surveillance activities that law enforcement does in Minnesota.  Such detail as from previous reports indicated specifically for what crimes, what was used, and so forth.  The 2016 report which was released last month was a very abbreviated version from the ones over the past few decades.  Just compare the 2016 report with any of the others from previous years, quite a difference.  Here is the one from 2014.

What these devices do and with their software is track an individual down to within feet of their exact location.  With add-on of software could intercept content of communication between people.  It is so "secret" on these matters even today the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension refuses to release even the amount they are paying for these surveillance devices to the Harris Corporation.

The report released last month was the first one since the implementation of the new law.  There was no detail about tracking warrants, particularly, how many times the Stingray and their brothers were used and for what purposes. And the reason why?

Tracking warrants were to be unsealed after the order was no longer needed for investigative purposes. There could be extensions for continued sealing but as it was clear in the 2014 legislation, eventually it would be public and even the subject of the surveillance would be notified.  But for nought this has never happened......they all remain sealed and secret.

The promise of scrutiny by the public and Minnesota Legislature of secret law enforcement surveillance activities with use of hush-hush high-tech technology by the 2014 law has been nixed. (The law had a reporting mechanism to be a part of the every two year report, subdivision 5)

It appears that law enforcement and the Minnesota courts could be participating in a culture of secrecy either out of ignorance, carelessness, or just plain complicity in not wanting to follow the law.

For more background on this issue please check out these news pieces by the Fox News affiliate Channel 9 and done by reporter Tom Lyden:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Hennepin County Sheriff systematic destruction of emails and data

This is an email I sent off to a number of people today:

"This is a unique document attached to this email by the Sheriff of Hennepin County.  It highlights a number of reasons why to destroy emails, one being to "mitigate risk".  Could that mean finding out about questionable behavior such as their facial recognition program implementation which the public and Hennepin County Commissioners did not know about?  There other examples I know and can think of.

Another part of the policy says that emails saved for "legitimate law enforcement / business purposes.  Granted one can designate their communication any way they want......but this is not a classification for secrecy or make data not available to the public.  Important that this new designation not be used as a preventive move for people to get access to public data.

The technical destruction may happen or begin December 1st, 2016.

So why a public interest?

It appears that the Sheriff wants to obliterate the past and control what the public should have access to. (30 day destruction and by having less data to go through based on a request)

Emails have the ability to spell out rationale for policies and initiatives.  Absence of documentation on concerns and issues can hinder the public right to know, but also ability to see and understand why.

Emails can detail a trail of individuals and the appropriate ones that have been informed of a problem, situation, or responsibility. The Flint water crisis is an example that shows this through Michigan authorities release of emails.  As so happens many times the public becomes belatedly to knowledge or discover bad or questionable action done by government.  This why data such as emails matters a great deal.

Data such as emails matter in the context of financial accountability, but also of historic framework: putting together how something came about, for example, the Sheriff's facial recognition program or the social media surveillance program known as GeoFeedia that appears the agency is involved with.

Information matters, but when that data is destroyed in such a short time as the Sheriff Rich Stanek is doing, even Hennepin County, the ability of oversight and the power to take the data, a way of self-governing accountability is not achieved.

Rich Neumeister"

The link for the Hennepin County Sheriff destruction of email policy.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

FOIA, Trump/Clinton, and you.

This campaign cycle we have been hearing comments from the presidential candidates and their surrogates saying the media coverage is rigged or efforts by a non-profit organization is a "right-wing" conspiracy against them.  Such entities like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Judicial Watch are using public record laws to look into Donald Trump's and Hillary Clinton's past.

Holding individuals who want to lead the nation accountable is a fundamental thing to do.  This is why efforts using state and federal freedom of information laws has been under attack, it makes the candidates and their operations uncomfortable to answer the questions which the documents raise.

Nevertheless, you can also use the tools of freedom of information laws on a local and state level.  In Minnesota, it is known as the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  Now I do not expect the reader of this post to read the law (linked above) and do a data request.  There are easier ways to understand the law and your rights to lift the veils of secrecy of government.

How to request information from a agency or entity of a local or state government:

The Information Policy Analysis Division which is part of the Minnesota Department of Administration offers the above suggestion.  They also offer advice  with a model letter how to ask for information from the government.

A simple letter by a citizen to a government agency can cause government and what it does to be exposed and ingenuous.  This is an example which I did in September of 2013.

"Pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act I wish to inspect and review all government data about the cell phone location tool known as the (Kingfish) including, but not limited to, such items as protocols, procedures, legal thresholds, Attorney opinions, evaluations, correspondence, and results of use."

This elementary request for public data sent off responses that found an agency lying to the public and the Minnesota Legislature about "StingRay."

To hold accountable government is just like holding candidates answerable who want to run for the highest elected office in the land.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Body cameras, attitude, legislature, and what's next

It has been a long time since I last wrote on these pages.  One huge reason why was my experience this past legislative session on the issue of body cameras.  I have said to many it was the most bitterest experience I had at the Minnesota Legislature in being there for four decades.  As many of you know I do not get paid for the work I do at the People's House.  It was time to reflect and assess, which I have done.  Like a "firebird" I have raised myself from the ashes of the past legislative session.  I will still be involved in the process, but with a different focus and effort

What have I been up to.  Here is a sample.  Communication I sent to interested parties today:

Next Monday, August 15, 2016, Public Record Media will be holding a free workshop for the public at the Duluth Public Library, 520 West Superior St.  From: 6:30pm to 8:00pm

This email is a follow up with more detail in which you may have an interest in to share with others or use in an announcement on Facebook or other type of media.

This will be our third year coming to Duluth.  The response from the residents of the Duluth community has been unbelievable. We have had continued interest from the community with communication from them with questions about freedom of information laws and how to use it since our first time in the Zenith City, in 2014.

This year we are a taking a different approach to our program, not necessarily a broad program explaining what freedom of information is.  But focusing on specific elements of the law with two presenters.

JT Haines, Duluth attorney, who has worked with Public Records Media as counsel in past.  He will explain important points about the use of the law to get access to public data.  He has focused as part of his past duties on proposed mining operations in northern Minnesota, such as Twin Metals and NorthMet projects.  He will share his experiences

The other presenter will be Rich Neumeister, an advocate for open government and an avid requester of public records.  The presentation by Mr. Neumeister will focus on the new body camera law which was passed by the Minnesota Legislature.  The law took effect on August 1, 2016.  Many people believe that the use of body cameras will bring transparency and accountability to the public on the use of police powers.  On the other hand, there are umpteen people who believe that the law is so geared towards law enforcement that there is in reality no clarity or onus.  Are they tools of surveillance and investigation............or a gadget to monitor how police do their duties?

Another topic covered in the program will be about the concept of inspection when one goes to the government agency to see and review the data individuals have requested.  In Minnesota law, it is very clear that people have a right to inspect data about their government or data that government has on them.  But in recent years, various agencies and entities are putting roadblocks for the public to get access to government data. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Governor Dayton, veto the body camera bill

Less than several weeks after the determination that Jamar Clark's death (shooting by Minneapolis officer) was justifiable by Hennepin County Attorney Freeman, the Minnesota Legislature will be passing a bill that will nearly make all body camera footage unavailable to the public without going through indomitable barriers and court.

The Conference Committee which reached agreement is being lauded by Senator Latz and Representative Cornish as a balanced bill for transparency, accountability, and as a vehicle of building public trust.  What was not mentioned is the impediments that the individuals including the subjects and public will have in getting access to the footage. Also not cited are the added protections it yields to officers who may be under inquiry, likewise the secrecy of officers bad behavior which the public will never know about or see.

The calls for greater accountability and transparency. nationally and locally with the use of body cameras, is being hacked to zero by the SF 498 Conference Committee report. (agreed upon bill)

Language in the bill allows an officer to review footage which can be evidence before they do a report or make a statement.  A practice that community groups and organizations from NAACP to American Civil Liberties Union oppose.  Made-to-measure statements done by officers is the fear that critics have of this provision. Tainting the evidence.  Officers under investigation for wrong doing would be able to review their own evidence (body camera footage) before the investigators could question them in a formal report or statement setting.

The City of Minneapolis are endowing hundreds of body cameras to their officers to build trust, accountability, and transparency.  This action can show that there is nothing to hide as their officers do their duties on the public streets and be answerable.  But this is for nought. 

The body camera footage is the document, the 21st Century document, the public should be able to have access to the video in situations such as arrest and general use of force situations.  To control body camera video with barricades of judgment and construing such words as what is "substantial bodily harm" or "common sensibilities" means the body cam footage is secret and defeats the purpose of the cameras.

There are parts of the legislation that allows for narrow public access but it is blocked with mechanisms of interpretation by the same agency that the public may have interest in to see if they are doing their job.  Why it is important for clear and unfettered access for the public in specific bearings, such as officer shootings and demonstrable use of force.

The deployment and use of body cameras and what the governing rules should be are knotty and arduous.  But what the Legislature will be passing is not what it should be. Without significant input from grassroots organizations, and the greased passage of bill by the Minnesota House in last 10 days ending with the Conference Committee report yesterday, the bill is the one that law enforcement wants and is chuckling behind the scenes saying......we have fooled the public on this one!

Even so, under current law police departments such as Duluth and Burnsville, as example, have implemented body camera programs and have made accountability and transparency a preference with protecting people's privacy.  Minneapolis is set on doing body cameras whether or not the law changed.  Instead, of rushing through this drastic and exorbitant legislative proposal, the Legislature may want to hold back, but I do not see that happening.

So, who does the responsibility sit upon, the Governor.  Governor Dayton can either sign or veto the body camera bill.  I urge him to veto the bill and the public should also. 

As I said in a previous post:

Governor Dayton can take the lead in doing this by having a task force appointed with various groups and interests represented in a fair and open matter.  With this action the Governor ensures that Minnesotan's will realize what the use of body cameras will do and the power of this new technology and what robust safeguards are needed.  Senate File 498 is not it, the legislation makes law enforcement who have considerable power over the lives of Minnesotan's the least accountable to the public with this new tool.

These are all the posts I have done on body cameras sorted by date.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Minnesota law enforcement neuters police oversight and accountability

Minnesota law enforcement ambitious attempts to improve community trust, transparency, and accountability with use of body cameras took a turn for the worse, with law enforcement agencies and interests themselves lobbying legislators to turn the bill to make it hard to trust, less transparent, and no accountability to and for the public. (say one thing do another)

Lobbyists and lawyers from the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association, League of Minnesota Cities, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, along with others from similar interests have been putting on great pressure to pass their "owned" bill on the issues that really matter. (Some funded directly or indirectly by taxpayer dollars)  The legislation allows for secrecy of documented police behavior on public streets when they are on duty.  Sets up barriers for subjects and the general public to gain access to body camera videos.  Even the limited footage allowed to the general public allows agencies with broad discretionary power not to release. No specific consent or notice to film you and your abode when agents of government come into your home in non-emergency situations with digitally enhanced cameras, among some of the goodies law enforcement interests got.

Appears that Minnesota Police Chiefs Association are on the same side with the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.....promise transparency and accountability with use of body cameras, but then undercut with doing action and talking out of both sides of their mouths.

Nothing new.  Have seen it many times.  Are legislators really going to buy into these efforts by the special interests of law enforcement without knowing the full ramifications and consequences of these unique bills?

This is the first attempt in 35 years to mass a major shift of police information that have been public to become secret at the Minnesota Legislature with hardly any policymakers asking the tough questions. I asked Rep. Cornish when bill was introduced last year about if he would be open to changes.  The die was already cast with  him telling me whatever the cops want that is what it will be.

I was hoping for changing the culture of how law enforcement works in Minnesota with greater oversight, community trust, accountability. and transparency with body cameras.  It basically is going to be used as an investigative and surveillance tool.

It is important that any body camera law not be used to shield a policeman's nightstick, gun, or power to be used in secret without accountability and transparency.  The body camera issue is complex and the legislation needs to be looked at in detail.  This has not happened.