Saturday, September 29, 2012

What does privacy mean, then and now?

Since I have been doing this "gig" of involvement with privacy and open government issues I have tried to take each issue or situation, one at a time, and try to balance those two interests.  Sometimes I succeed, others I do not.

But I have noticed over the past few years I am more on the open government side than the privacy side when it comes to government.  This was illustrated to me just today as I was finally "purging" hundreds of pages of legislative "stuff".

I ran across a proposal by Rep. Carruthers, now a judge in Hennepin County.  In 1992, he proposed legislation that would open up the conviction records to the public held by the BCA.  The BCA was the sole central repository for conviction records for the State of Minnesota.  It was classified as private because of impact of a central database could have on people's lives.  This issue was explored in the FBI v Reporters Committee, Supreme Court case in 1989.

I was ready for the proposal and worked real hard against it.  One of my big points was that the State of Minnesota would be putting out 270,000 names of people in public and could have a privacy impact on them. What came out of the session that year was the famous compromise of "computers" to be set up for the public to view public conviction data at the BCA HQ in St Paul.

Well time went on until the last couple of years of Sen Neuville's tenure.  There was discussion by the BCA to put conviction data on the Internet and charge for it.  When I heard about this I had some concerns, but those concerns were being driven by the open government side of me.

Why should the State be charging the public to view data that the public at this time was now paying private companies for who more than likely got it from the BCA.  Cannot remember specifically, how I hooked up with Sen. Neuville, now Judge, on this one, but we worked together to produce language along with others in Senate File 2 that allowed the public via the BCA website through Internet to view public convictions, to charge a fee, but the fee would sunset in 2005.

In 2005, Sen. Neuville and I were ready to make sure that the sunset remained therefore allowing the public to view the data for free as it continues to this day.

I still battle with the balance of privacy vs. right to know in the public venue, but I am more apt to be on the public data side for accountability and transparency because I have seen too much mischief being done in with things being secret.

With government in Minnesota, as Don Gemberling stated, "Legal privacy in the public sector in Minnesota depends almost entirely on how data about you is classified by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Chapter 13 of Minnesota Statutes."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Are those cameras and who's watching on McKnight Road?

Have you ever looked on the stop and go lights and see all the attachments they have on them.  Some look like over sized light bulbs.  You may also see a small round item with clear plastic on the bottom of it.  More than likely this is a surveillance camera.

On September 6, 2012, I was on the corner of Lower Afton & McKnight Road.  I noticed on all four stop & go lights there were long tubes like cameras or something similar such as that attached to the overhangs over the street.  There was one on each overhang facing oncoming traffic.  So for example, if you were heading south on McKnight, the overhang would have the equipment facing you coming from the north on the south side of the intersection.  The local governments that intersect or could be responsible at that location are St Paul, Maplewood, and Ramsey County.

With license plate readers in the news and my own interest on privacy matters in regards to surveillance I decided to do a data practices request of those local government law enforcement agencies to find out what they may be.

" I wish to inspect and review all government data related to the use of those cameras-equipment or what ever kind of instruments it is on the corners/intersection of McKnight & Lower Afton Road."

The responses were as follows:

"SPPD does not have cameras or other instruments at Lower Afton and McKnight.  You may want to check with traffic control agencies like MN DOT."

"The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office does not have any equipment as described deployed, or any activities involving such, located at the intersection of Lower Afton & McKnight Road. From your description of the equipment I would make inquiries with agencies involved with traffic control. Since McKnight Road is the borderline of the cities of Saint Paul and Maplewood, and McKnight is a County Road, your inquiry could possibly include the Ramsey County Public Works Department, City of Maplewood Public Works, City of Saint Paul Public Works, or Minnesota Department of Transportation. If the equipment is actually deployed by law enforcement you may want to make inquiries with the Police Departments of the cities of Saint Paul and Maplewood."

"Maplewood has nothing to do with the devices you mentioned.  Our public works director does not think they are cameras but vehicle detection devices to trip the semaphores.  You can contact Ramsey County Public Works to ask them."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Does Minneapolis Police Department have a policy on personal recording devices?

In my last post I responded to a Star Tribune article how a Minneapolis law enforcement officer Timothy Callahan is involved with a civil suit involving possible withholding of evidence.  The post laid out several questions about the usage of officers using personal recorders, cell phones, and pen cameras.

From the response and comments I got from the post I decided to ask a question of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), Do you (MPD) have a policy regulating the use of these kind of recording devices by your officers?

The response was yes.  It is Administrative Order AA12-019 issued on August 14, 2012.  The subject of the administrative policy is labeled as "Using Cell Phones/Recording Devices to Capture Evidence".

The order more than likely was promulgated by MPD because of the Callahan situation getting public attention, but also as the document states there are other "few cases" where MPD officers have used their own personal recording devices "to capture evidence".  The memo states that it does not prohibit this kind of behavior, but if MPD officers are going to do it while on duty the administrative order lays out some guidelines and principles.

No matter if an officer records evidence on a personal or "department-issued cell phone or other recording device" the evidential process is the same.  The order continues to say:

"1. The cell phone or other recording device containing evidential photos or recordings shall be property inventoried. The minimum turnaround time for processing is 24 hours, possibly up to a week.

 2. The Crime Lab will process the evidence in the same manner all other phones or recording devices are being handled.  There are no exceptions.  This is to insure the integrity of the Crime Lab's processing methods."

Now the policy is not comprehensive in my view and does not answer a number of questions, but is a stop gap effort until a "Personal Recording Device policy (which) is currently in development and the MPD’s Cell Phone policy is also being revised at this time." is implemented.

I have to give credit to Minneapolis Police Chief Dolan in recognizing there is a problem and doing something immediately in which this order took effect.  But questions can be asked why it took so long to recognize this issue?  Secondly, what are other law enforcement agencies doing on this matter or do they have policies and procedures?  Are the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association along with Sheriff's Association working on a general policy?

With the proliferation of small personal recording devices that record audio and visual happenings it was only a matter of time before an issue like this would hit law enforcement.  If a law enforcement officer "records" inappropriate behavior as they do their official duties with personal devices it should be treated as any other evidence and guided by law and policies.