Monday, November 29, 2010

Boost Your I.Q.

Not that kind of intelligence about brainpower, but criminal intelligence.  Criminal intelligence is information gathered by police on individuals or organizations who they suspect of criminal activity. There will be a public hearing on December 2, 2010, at the Minnesota State Office Building, 3:00pm, Basement Hearing Room on this issue

You may wonder why this matters to you. 

Some of you may know about GangNet and the use of it by the Gang Strike Force. The GangNet database had listed thousands of people listed as "gang members".  The criteria was solely developed and structured by law enforcement.  People's names were added to the database the same way, by police alone.  It was easy to get on the list.  Being seen with an documented gang member, you were listed. If you have a suspicious tattoo that you had done on your trip to Hawaii, you were identified.  Even having a close relative on the wrong side of the law could get you possibly captured in the computer.
But more than that, GangNet was secret, unaccountable, and not transparent.  The individual more than not did not know if their name was in the database.  There was no process for you to find out if you were on the list or even how to get off.  On the other hand, if you applied for a conceal and carry permit you could be denied based on your name being solely in GangNet, or you could be treated as a suspect and be under surveillance or background information gathered on you.

I use GangNet as an example how criminal intelligence is collected and can be used.  Criminal intelligence is not only collected on alleged gang members.

Criminal intelligence can be collected on such simple things as a phone call to the police accusing you of being involved in drugs, or by an anonymous tip with any kind of accusation, or even if you are protesting against the war or big government.

How the local and state police use this kind of data, even with good intentions, raises far reaching civil liberty issues regarding individual privacy, public accountability, and First Amendment issues.  There is a real possibility that innocent people could be speculated upon and branded as a suspect and be placed in a database secretly and unaccountable and then that data being shared throughout the state and to the Federal Government.

There is more information on this issue on a blog post, a press release by the Department of Public Safety, and at the BCA Website, S.F.2575 Work Group.

By informing yourself and going to the hearing on Thursday you can help create standards and direction as to how the Minnesota State Legislature can ensure that the tools of law enforcement to solve crime and keep us safe do not become a device for a particular purpose of a police state.

Because if we have not learned anything from our history, from the abuses of the FBI to what has happened in Minnesota, it is this: a little misinformation and a mask of criminal suspicion can keep out of sight bad behavior and dereliction of duty by even the best intended in the midst of us.

Monday, November 22, 2010

License Plate Readers: Keeping Track of Your Travels.

The Star Tribune reported that law enforcement agencies such as Bloomington, St. Paul, and others have purchased license plate readers.  I was struck by two points made in the story, "Camera systems can be tweaked to meet the individual needs of departments."  The other point being that police have heard few comments that they are acting like "Big Brother".

The reason why law enforcement agencies have not heard concerns about the license plate reader is because hardly anybody knows about it.  Secondly, to where the law enforcement agency can decide what "individual needs" are raises privacy and civil liberty concerns.

These cameras can be mounted on police cars or on poles.  They can collect thousands of license plate data on cars and individuals in a 8 hour period.  A law enforcement agency may focus only on stolen cars and missing persons when the data is compared with those lists.  Others may focus on parking meter violations, bench warrants, suspicious persons, cars without insurance, and other types of doings that interest law enforcement.

The data collected by the readers can be stored, linked for other applications and uses, or compared to information in other databases.  What vehicles are in use, where it has been, and where it is going are some of the inferences that can be made from the data collected.  The license plate can tell where an individual could be or where the person has been based on who the plate is registered to.  Depending on the vendor and the product a database can store images, plate #, date, time, and gps data.

Issues of inaccuracy, mission creep, are among the many issues with the license plate reader.  Law enforcement entities creating and retaining a license plate database of our comings and goings have serious privacy and civil liberty implications for Minnesotans.

Other states have taken notice to this technology and have done guidelines and legislation to address the citizen's concerns.  I think we need to do so as well.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The New U President: What Went Wrong.

The University of Minnesota selected a new President on Thursday, but there are allegations that the state's Open Meeting Law was violated.  The Star Tribune reported that there were private meetings between members of the Board of Regents(University's governing body) and the candidate Eric Kaler before the public interview in an open hearing of the full board.

The U seems to be falling into its old habits again, not wanting to follow our states open meeting and public records law. This is not new for the U.  Depending on the issue the Regents would fight to the death either in the Courts or at the Legislature that they are self autonomous and open government laws did not apply to them.

That changed in 2004 when the Minnesota Supreme Court said, no, no, Regents you are accountable to the laws of the State of Minnesota, Open Meeting Law and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

Since 2004, the Regents and the U have fought hard at the legislature to keep things secret.  Those things such as how the U of M invests at least a billion dollars in private venture capitol, Tubby Smith's and his coaches outside income, which is related to the new conflict of interest reporting that the U is in the process of adopting.

So in whose hands does responsibility land to see what happened with the selection process and that the U is not falling into its old tricks again, the media, the legislature, or you the citizen?

You ask any citizen in Minnesota, tell them that billions of their hard earned money goes to the U, the University is viewed as the new technology and research engine for our states economic future, and it is important for the education of our citizens, would you hire the candidate for CEO who only answers the tough questions in private?  I would think not.

The blame should not be on the new President, but on the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota

Monday, November 15, 2010

Experts: Minnesota's Criminal History System Falling Apart.

The collapse of the 35W bridge has made the old freeway bridge a symbol of impending doom.   This was done to describe the state of  Minnesota's criminal history system.

Minnesota's network of criminal history records is known as the Computerized Criminal History (CCH) system.  The network allows law enforcement, agencies, and citizens to get access to arrest and conviction records. It is the state's central repository for data on an individuals felony, gross misdemeanor, and other misdemeanor's.

The Criminal and Juvenile Justice Information Task Force recently talked and discussed  of what the priorities should be for the coming budget biennium. The CCH and the Criminal Justice Reporting System (CJRS) were listed as very important priorities.  Both systems were described by experts as being decades old and near collapse.  Hence, the 35W analogy was stated.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension staff said that CCH and CJRS have been submitted through the budget process in past years, but has not made it through.

An outage of Minnesota's criminal history system would have dire, but harder to see consequences.

The background check on the caregiver for your parents could not be done, the cop who needs information before an arrest is made to see what the suspects past record may be would not be available, or the person who wants accurate, complete, correct information about themselves as they apply for government licenses and permits.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Will There Be A Difference On Privacy Issues With The Gop?

Will the sweep of the Republicans to the House and the Senate at the Capitol make a difference?  Yes and No.

Privacy issues at the legislature are generally not a political or party issue.  It depends on the specific bill.  For example, a bill that was introduced to give individuals more rights as to what the state does with DNA samples may have more of a chance of passing because of the change.  On the other hand, legislation that would regulate the credit report industry rigorously may not.

In general, there is a difference in attitude between the political parties as to the relationship of individual to government, and the role of government in the private sector.

Based on my experience of years working on legislation I see the new legislature more so reviewing what data the government collects on its citizens.  Any new initiatives to collect data in the health care industry on individuals or by government will be met with skepticism. On the other hand, legislation giving workers strong rights on how they are electronically monitored may not have a chance of passing.

At the same time I have seen members of both parties stand up to strongly regulate the private sector and to stop government involvement in our lives.

Representative Holberg took on the cell phone industry to ban them from selling and placing cell phone numbers in phone books.  Another example is when legislators, Tim Pawlenty and Steve Kelley introduced and passed the first bill in the country to regulate how internet companies use our private information.  I also saw how a number of DFL'ers opposed photo cop which a number of government entities wanted.  It did not pass.

All I know as I begin my annual anticipation of going to the legislature to work on the issues I care about.  I will do as I always do.  Be prepared, have information, and be there at the Capitol.