Saturday, December 28, 2013

Minnesota Legislature needs to act to protect your privacy and liberty

As been highlighted in our local media lately-----technology has come to rule as being a major part of law enforcement data gathering.  But the same reports have stated the Minnesota Legislature knew nothing about such things as the Kingfish, that could also be said of the License Plate Reader cameras until the Star Tribune did a major story on it last year.  That inattention carries a heavy price on our privacy and civil liberty.

I have reported in the past on specific tech tools being used by various law enforcement agencies in posts on this website. Pursuant to data practices requests I have made over years,  Minnesota law enforcement agencies show gushing use of surveillance tools and behavior at every level, from social media, movements of cars, cameras on the streets, to listening to people's conversations in public.

In reviewing logs and administrative subpoenas, cell phone carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile are being served and responding to thousands of these warrant less pieces of paper from Minnesota cops.  These papers can command phone companies and similar entities for subscriber information, which includes such information as example,  GPS/location data, calling records, photos, and text messages. As the KARE 11 story pointed out several weeks ago a "cell" tower dump could scour thousands of innocent people connected to a given tower at a certain time.

And as the Minnesota House of Representatives learned in a very unique debate on the floor last session on License Plate Readers (cameras) location data can be quite revealing of an individuals associations, activities, and movements.

As part of my data requests I have asked for data that would help me determine what legal thresholds are used for the new tech surveillance and monitoring that government does.  The response I got was all over the board. Some agencies had thresholds, some did not, for example, "relevant" to an investigation to probable cause (4th Amendment search warrant).  One or two agencies even refused to tell me.
I have stated forthrightly in the past and I will say at the Minnesota Legislature our state laws need to be refitted for the emerging technology of surveillance and monitoring to protect our privacy and civil liberties.  That can begin with a robust and in-depth set of hearings next month which it seems the Minnesota House Civil Law Committee may do.

I helped write our state laws with legislators 25 years ago that govern the rules on electronic surveillance.  The legislators (then) and I never dreamed of the technology we have today.  If we knew I can assure you we would have addressed it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Mayor Coleman: What does "thorough review" mean on snow removal?

Anyone who spends time and lives in Minnesota knows your local government has to have effective snow plowing services.  For many people in St Paul this appeared not to be the case after early December's snow storm.  Many residents complained on social media and with phone calls to elected officials.  So how did St Paul City Hall react? 

Per the Star Tribune, Mayor Coleman said after a "thorough review" the City did not live up to it's bargain of effective snowplowing.  He made some changes the story goes on to say.

But the question for me is why did it happen in the first place, ineffective snowplowing services.  Secondly, can it happen again this winter.  Remember we had instances like this in recent past years----- ineffective snow removal on our streets.

Many residents were aggravated for a number of reasons, # one being safety for themselves and others.

Have to credit Mayor Coleman for handling the matter right away.  But will it happen again?  That is why I am interested to know what the internal review said and called for.

I want to be safe when I travel on the streets in St Paul whether in a vehicle or when I cross them.  I believe that many residents of St Paul want to be sure that what happened in early December does not happen again.  What was the problem in the first place?

That is why I made a data practices request to inspect and review all government data of the internal review.

I am just doing a little bit of public scrutiny and accountability.  You can also do it on many decisions local government does and makes.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Why I went "fishin" for Kingfish

There are three principles that drove me to take out my rod and reel to go trolling for this elusive secret mark, Kingfish.

First, is my penchant to make sure that institutions with power, whether public or private, are accountable, transparent, and scrutinized.  Secondly, my strong belief in an individuals right to privacy.  Thirdly, to change the law to reflect the emerging technology that compromises our privacy.

For decades, I have been balancing the above, 1st and 2nd concepts in many of my legislative and community efforts.  The third is based on what I did 25 years ago.

In the summer of 1988 through the 1989 Minnesota legislative session,  I worked with a group of lawmakers in researching and writing amendments to the Minnesota 626A (Privacy of Communications) law that guides how government gets access to your electronic records in the cloud, cell phone records, GPS locations, and intercept and get access to your electronic communications (emails, ie).

But in 1988-1989, there was no such thing as "the cloud", cell/smart phones, and GPS locations being collected where ever you go.  Matter of fact when I brought up with lawmakers in 1989 the need to entrench protections in the bill because of electronic tracking devices I had to to convince them how law enforcement was using them.  They put some limited protections.

Now here we are in 2013 where government is using a quarter of century old "words" law to guide itself in gathering data about ourselves.  This is the heart of the Kingfish question, are the current laws in sync with the technology that has emerged in the last 25 years?  The answer for me is simple, no.

Starting last year I have been making a number of data requests to see how easy law enforcement and government agencies get access to our electronic communications and records.  My goal as I stated before is to update our laws.  What I found out is that local and state government are using administrative subpoenas and simple court orders to get easy access to our electronic data, documents/records, communications and location held by third parties.  And the kicker is it is with a very low threshold/standard to where it may be "relevant to an investigation."

As I researched how location data is collected by cell/smart phones I found about a new tech toy called the Stingray.  This new tool was being used by law enforcement across the USA.  The Stingray is the brother to Kingfish. 

I heard about the Kingfish in 2010 at the Minnesota Legislature and by news reports in the Star Tribune how Hennepin County was acquiring one.  It was then I decided to take a look back and see how the Hennepin County Sheriff was doing with the "fish".  Rereading a news article I found out the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension had a possible "fish", too.  The first time I knew about that.

So I sent data practice requests three months ago to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Hennepin County Sheriff.

What I am trying to accomplish with my "fishin" activities is to get public data so that policymakers and the public can make informed decision-making about how institutions of power with emerging technology compromises our liberties and privacy. It is that simple.  Accountability, transparency, and scrutiny.

NOTE: This specific post is not about in detail the issues surrounding emerging technology and it's interaction with our rights and liberties  That is reflected in previous posts and will also continue in the future.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cell-Phone tracking: Minn cops know where you are with KingFish-UPDATE

Since 2005, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) has paid nearly $750,000 for what they call a cellular exploitative device. After the state's top cop agency got their new spy tool, the Hennepin County Sheriff had to get one, too.  In 2010, Hennepin County Sheriff's got a device for nearly $400,000.

The BCA wants to keep you from knowing about these secret tools.  They have pulled a shade of "total" secrecy, a blackout. What the secret tool does is track mobility of anyone in a general area with their mobile device and grabs the numbers of individual's outgoing and incoming phone calls, possibly content messages, but also the location of people.
As people know who may follow or have read my blog posts over the last few months I've been doing data requests and reporting on these new tech tools. I have been asking for what the devices do, the costs, the inactive criminal investigations which the tool has been used (public data), protocols and guidelines used, legal thresholds, the contract and the name of the vendor who provides the spy/surveillance equipment.

The Sheriff of Hennepin County provided more public data to me than the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (BCA) did.

The communication I got from the Sheriff's lawyer gave me the contract, the legal threshold (court order) less than a search warrant, and the number of times which the tool has been used.

Quite different though from the state's top cop shop, the BCA.  I got nothing, other than a couple of letters confirming they have a device and the cost since 2005.  I am still in the accountability and transparency fight with them, by sending them another data request to review and inspect all inactive criminal investigations (public data) which the Kingfish or Stingray were used in.

Today the USA Today published an in-depth investigative story on this type of technology and the issues surrounding it.

I do not have the resources to fight the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension or any government agency through the judicial process to get them to be accountable, transparent, and scrutinized by the public.  Only the Minnesota Legislature can with laws and effective oversight.

Over the forty years plus years I have learned about abuses of power in national, state, and local government, we, Minnesotan's cannot say abuses do not occur.  A secret law enforcement system is an anathema and repugnant in our democracy and all things I have fought for.  If the government does not trust us, it can always go somewhere else and rule over a people it does trust, but government  cannot do this, because we rule.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013


    "1.  The quality or condition of being private; withdrawal from public view or company;
     seclusion.   2.  secrecy."

     "Privacy is.........the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of rights 
     and the right most valued by civilized men."

     "Privacy is not simply an absence of information about us in the minds of others; 
     rather it is the 'control' we have over information about ourselves"


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Data and name you can't see

In the couple of months since I sent to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) a data request about an unique tool used by them to do surveillance and monitoring of Minnesotans I have been rebuffed in many ways.  My experience has been one of the toughest I have ever experienced in my many years of working with Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

I made a broad request of DPS about policies, costs, contracts with private company, legal thresholds, and use of this new technology.  The response I got back in early part of October was a two page letter stating that DPS has a cellular exploitative device and the rest of the data is secret.  I got no contract, no cost of device, how much public dollars are being used, do they use search warrants when devices are used, in what specific cases the device has been used in, and what protocols they have to insure accountability.

After this response I spoke with Joseph Newton, Legal Counsel for the Department of Public Safety.  I said I was surprised I did not get more data that I think should be public even at a minimum the contract with company which would include name, the cost of public dollars used, and at least what the legal policies are that the DPS guides itself by.  A division (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) BCA within DPS uses the the cellular exploitative device or devices.

Under normal circumstances when I talk with legal counsel trying to get access to clearly public data I have been generally able to come to some understanding and agreement.  Not this time, Mr. Newton is zealously protecting his client and in my judgement overreaching with his interpretation of law.  But the question remains why Superintendent Setter and Commissioner Dohman are so adamant to not share data that brings transparency and accountability to what their department does?

There is a problem of the DPS/BCA acting alone with this new technology.  The public does not know if search warrants are being used.  Who do they have a contract with in spending taxpayers dollars?  Self-monitoring which it seems the Department wants has a danger of abuse.  In the use of this device by the BCA are they gathering data on innocent Minnesotans?  The public will never know because we cannot have access to public data.

After I received the first response from DPS I sent a more specific request asking again for public data.  I asked to review and inspect data that can tell me the cost, the contract with the company which could tell me the name.  After nearly seven weeks I got the response yesterday.  The response I got is that it costs $732, 000 of taxpayers dollars since 2005 for the use of this cell phone sniffer.  No contract, no name of company, zip.

As shameless as this barrier of secrecy is I am equivalently troubled by the nonexistence of any legal policies or protocols which is the heart of how the public can tell if there is abuse or violation of our privacy and civil liberties by this new technology.  What is the significant check on the use of this technology?

The public has no idea whether the Department of Public Safety in using cellular exploitative devices are rigorously complying with our Fourth Amendment.  And that is the issue.  Should they be able to escape accountability and scrutiny by altering into a government agency outside of the law, to where their power grows and we cannot see.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Minnesota potpourri of privacy and open government

Everyday I learn something in the areas of privacy and open government.  This is done by reading, talking with people, or just having a good nose for what's going on.  I have shared these with you through the blog posts and tweets @richneumeister

Something I am going to try for the first time and which I may do once in a while is share with you some of my experiences, vignettes, and things I learn as I engage in the public venue in a short format. So here it goes:

This I week went to the Ramsey County Sheriff's office to inspect and review a data request I had done. (remember under data practices to look at government data is free Chapter 13.03, subd. 3)  I decided to ask the  records office if I could "inspect" the arrest data of people who were arrested by Ramsey County Sheriff over the weekend.  Immediate response by personnel, "You can look it up online.", there was no terminal available to the public for me to look it up.  Eventually, I was able to review a printed copy after the public information officer of the Sheriff came down.

Are state courts in Minnesota available for the public to go in and watch, anonymously?  My experience for the first time to sit in court for a period of time in decades played differently.  I decided to sit in the misdemeanor arraignment court of Ramsey County the other day.  As soon as I got in the court pew I was approached by a bailiff and asked what I was here for.  Two other people of the court venue asked me who I was.  My answer to to the bailiff was, "Just want to see the administration of justice".  By the way one cannot read the newspaper in court during lull time as the judge herself said "waiting for customers" to appear before her.

This summer I have been making data requests to find out how many administrative subpoenas are issued by various public attorney offices. (administrative subpoenas per state law are done by county attorneys and attorney general to seek records and documents on people in criminal investigations)  Most of the county attorneys and AG cannot tell me precisely how many are issued by them on a yearly basis.  But County Attorney Mike Freeman's office can.  Through 2010-2012, Hennepin County has issued a little over 9000 of these pieces of paper that can easily get personal information on people.  My hats off to the Hennepin County Attorneys office for having a log for easy accountability and transparency for the public.  Here's Hennepin County Attorneys log on administrative subpoenas for 2010 by just clicking on this sentence.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety it seems wants to keep "top secret" the name of the company, the contract, and the cost of public $$$ it costs to either purchase or rent the services of the "cell phone sniffer". This "cellular exploitative device" (KingFish) as Public Safety calls it raises issues of privacy, surveillance, accountability, and transparency and whether police need a warrant to use it.  I made a request for the specific data on October 3, 2013.  I am still waiting for my "data".

Tell me what you think of me doing something like this on a regular basis.  Any items on privacy or open government you think needs attention?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An indefensible and odious practice with (Foia-Data Practice) data requests

Of all the practices that government agencies do that obstructs the relationship between individual and government and may incense the public more than others is when they do not answer your data request or saying you are not going to get the data through a paragraph or two of legalese.

In many instances, for example, parents may want to get information to appeal a special education decision about their child, a community organization may want to get data on neighborhood developments, and the government will give you an answer that has nothing to do with your data request, or may not answer you at all.

Something like that happened to me recently when I did a request to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Department of Public Safety for information about their surveillance tool which they would not even name.  In my data request I was hoping to get inactive criminal files which would tell me in situations it was used, to get data that would outline how the agency makes sure that the tool is not used in violation of our rights and liberties, "accountability"  Also if law enforcement is using the tool in an appropriate and responsible way.  But if you look at the response by the Department of Public Safety closely you will note they do not answer my request directly.  The agency takes the position "we cannot provide details about the equipment" to me.

The attorney representing the agency goes on to say in the letter, "any disclosure regarding the manufacturer, model,...........or other specifics......can render the system useless."  I did not know that the name of the manufacturer is such a secret that if released to the public it would cause great harm.

The focus is on the cellular device itself with their response.  But my request was also for results of the use of the device which BCA wishes to remain nameless.  The public data which should have been given to me is the inactive criminal investigative (closed) files which have allowed me to see what legal thresholds were used, in what situations the device is used, and the results of the use.  Granted some data can be redacted, but to say zip.  Come on now.

But what I just described to you happens many times with just plain residents of this state trying to assert their statutory rights to review their own data, possibly to find out why an agency made the decision they did and chooses to fight it, or a group of people wanting to find out if their property rights are being violated with a possible development.

So how do we the public make sure that government does not behave like this to the populace.  First of all, call the person or send a communication to them pointing out where you disagree, ask them to review again the request.  Many times my experience has shown that their review again provides the data you are asking for or what you really wanted.  Secondly, also speak with the (find out who) data compliance official of that agency or local government.  (example,  City of St Paul has one, state agencies have one)  But also speak with your state legislator, they are the ones that make the laws.

Now with my current data request with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension concerning that hush, hush secret surveillance tool.  I sent another data request for government data asking for the contract with the mysterious company, the date and the cost of the equipment. I am still fighting.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What's behind the secrecy wall of Hennepin Co Sheriff and BCA?

When was the last time that you ever heard of a government agency spending almost $400,000 (see note below) dollars for equipment and upkeep of it and then telling the public, "It's none of your business."

Well, it has happened to me twice in two weeks. I believe the cost of BCA's tool and upkeep is nearly the same. The subject was my data practice requests of a high tech tool called the Kingfish or a similar cellular exploitation device that both Hennepin County Sheriff' and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) own.  The responses to my data requests are as follows:

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Department of Public Safety
Hennepin County Sheriff

How can this be?  It is a seven letter word:

 (1) the condition of being hidden or concealed
 (2) the habit or practice of keeping secrets or maintaining privacy or concealment 
 Source: Merriam-Webster

Both the Department of Public Safety and the Hennepin County Sheriff's have taken positions that they want to conceal, hide, or keep secret the use of this device.

As someone who helped legislators pass major changes with Minnesota law dealing with electronic communications 25 years ago, 626A (Privacy Communications Act) I am familiar about the importance of our privacy and liberties and how Minnesota law enforcement fought against those changes.  But what has happened since then is that technology has changed and law enforcement has better tools and toys which invade our privacy and compromise our liberty, and they do not want to let the public know about it.

Some of the few questions I am trying to get answered are as follows:

In what situations are the cellular exploitation devices used?

Are the BCA/Hennepin Co Sheriff invading people's privacy and liberty at a low legal threshold or no threshold rather than get a search warrant?

Who oversees and approves the use of the equipment?  Where is the accountability?

How many innocent people have been within sights of the Kingfish or similar device,  the data collected and those subjects of the surveillance who may not even know about it,?  How many arrests have happened with the use of this device?

Kip Carver, an official in the Hennepin County Sheriff's office stated to the county's commissioners three years ago that the cellular exploitation device may be used hundreds of times a year.

How frequently are the cellular exploitation devices used and the number of subjects?

Depending if the cops are using a low threshold or none at all in using this device are they doing so to avoid an appearance before a judge where a search warrant (top standard to protect our privacy & liberty) needs to be issued and where questions can be asked?

What is the role of the prosecutors in situations when this equipment is used?

In my data request I asked for the legal thresholds that the agencies must go by in order to use the Kingfish?  What is so secret about that?
At this time, the attitude that both agencies have taken with my data requests give the Minnesota Legislature and most important the public no idea how this tool has been used, is being used,  how an individual or individuals get chosen to be pursued, and who is accountable.

As some people may currently know I have been working to possibly update our state laws so that the rule of law applies to whats happening now in 2013 not in 1988-1989 when 626A had its last major update.

Even though the Department of Public Safety and the Hennepin County Sheriff do not want to tell me or the public their protocols, policies, procedures of accountability, legal thresholds, and other appropriate public data I will still push on and I hope others will.  I am not interested to live in a state where law enforcement rules and not the people.

NOTE:  Earlier version of this post incorrectly stated "a million".  The Homeland Security Grant ($426, 150) approved by Hennepin County Board in March of 2010 for the purchase of a cell exploitation device was incorrectly added to the amount stated in contract between Harris Corporation and Hennepin County Sheriff which implemented the purchase.  That cost was $389,050. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Keep law enforcement in check

Over the years at the Minnesota Legislature in my advocacy of open government and privacy a by product of that has been to keep power in check.  Whether it be government power or private institutional power.

An aspect of power that I have drifted to more than others to keep in check has been the power of law enforcement.  Ever since I was a youngster being raised in McDonough Housing Projects or in the Frogtown neighborhood of St Paul it became clear in my diverse community the difference how you are treated by police based on the color of one's skin.

Being raised in the sixties does have an impact on you when the television is inundated with police and barking dogs towards people who are fighting for their rights.  As I became more aware as to who I am and learned things I became to realize there are good cops and bad cops, but understood when they told you to stop, you stopped, they had power.

As I spoke with a public attorney of a law enforcement agency this morning on being denied government data on the accountability of how cops use cell phone trackers, I was guided by my focus of keeping power in check.  I stated to the attorney that there should be data that is public on how cops use this device.  I stated a number of items that should be accessible to the public.

Why I push after being denied access to government data (this situation) is because I need to know if agencies such as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Hennepin County Sheriff's office who have and use the Kingfish (intercept cell signals to find the phone's location) are abusing our rights with their power.

I want to know if there is supervision and accountability with the use of this equipment, is it done with a search warrant, or is it being used in a way with no accountability or transparency?  In what situations is this "secret" device used for?  These are just a number of questions I would like to have answered.

Over the past year I been doing numerous data practice requests of numerous law enforcement agencies.  The requests range from polices and procedures on how cops download your cell/smart phone and with what authority to the use of administrative subpoenas.  I have read thousands of detail of public government data that deal with law enforcement.  I read substance that disturbs me and I ask the question are our rights and privacy being violated or compromised.

Several weeks ago I spoke with a law enforcement official.  We were talking about his agency.  The person indicated the direction the agency may go in some of its duties and could have a meeting in the future about it.  The topic was one I thought could have an impact on rights and liberties.  I said I would be interested in that.  What was stated straight back to me, "It's none of your business."  I then said, directly back, "It's the public business."

Now this reaction by some law enforcement officials in this state is not new.  I have interacted and dealt with it for decades.  But I have and still continue to ask the questions, read the data/documents, and keep law enforcement in check, but it is important that others do the same.

Don Gemberling,  who for decades was the state's top data practices person and still active as a private individual who lobbies the Minnesota Legislature recently said to me when we were talking about the power of law enforcement and the public role in checking that power:

"Within the mainstream of the history of American political thinking in this country, keeping a check on law enforcement is why we have the Constitution."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Open Letter to Hennepin County Commissioners about privacy & accountability

Three and a half years ago you approved the receipt of Homeland Security funding ($426,150) for the "Kingfish" device. This is a device the Star Tribune called a "controversial tracking device that can pinpoint cell phone locations even when they're not being used".  The County is now paying nearly $400,000 to the Harris Corporation for the maintenance of your cell tracking device.

This cell phone sniffing device is now being used and administered by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.  There were concerns by some of the commissioners in 2010 about illegal searches, compromising privacy and civil liberty interests, and government surveillance of movement.

Per the Star Tribune in 2010:

"Inspector Kip Carver told the Board prior to the vote that the department is committed to using "best practices" in using the system and that it will seek opinions from the Hennepin County attorney's office and draw up guidelines on when and how the system will be used. "I think it will be helpful to know what all of the standards are," said Commissioner Gail Dorfman, who earlier this month voted to table the matter".

In another article by the Star Tribune, Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat said he "still wasn't sure whether it might be susceptible to abuse or whether it was an appropriate tool for the Sheriff's Office".

The Star Tribune continued to state that, "Kip Carver, a Sheriff's Office inspector who heads the investigations bureau, told commissioners that the device would track only cell phone numbers obtained through a search warrant, and couldn't be used without a court order.  Asked how many times a year the device might be used, he said it could be in the hundreds".

With the Kingfish and its newer brother, the Stingray in the news, I decided to do a data practices request on the "best practices" used by the Sheriff's Office, any County Attorney opinions, the guidelines on when and how the device will be used,  the standards which Ms. Dorfman spoke about, the results of the use of this device, and also the legal thresholds for when to use it.
I did an earlier blog post on the Kingfish titled:  Cell-Phone tracking: Minn cops know where you are with Kingfish   The data practices request I asked of the Hennepin County Sheriff's is included in another post I did describing the Kingfish.

Today I recieved a letter from the Hennepin County Attorney's office which stated that I am not getting any government data pursuant to my request because the county has chosen to keep all data secret except the contract with the Harris Corporation. I will interact with the Attorney's office about their letter because I believe there is some data that is public, and their opinion is incorrect.

So who is doing oversight to make sure that all those concerns and discussions that took place several years ago about overseeing this cell tracking device are happening?  I am trying to do this as a member of the public who has an interest for our privacy and civil liberty interests.  But are you as elected officials doing it?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Meet Minnesota's Kingfish......that track and mine information

Three weeks ago ago I sent the Bureau of Apprehension and the Hennepin County Sheriffs office a data practices request on the Kingfish.  My request was as follows to the Hennepin County Sheriff's office:

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

I am still waiting for the results of those requests.  It is important to know if this tool of law enforcement is used with search warrants, accountability, and transparency.  Read this description of the Kingfish which I just found on the ars technica (website).  A post entitled...."Meet the machines that steal your phone's data" by Ryan Gallagher.


The Kingfish is a surveillance transceiver that allows authorities to track and mine information from mobile phones over a targeted area. The device does not appear to enable interception of communications; instead, it can covertly gather unique identity codes and show connections between phones and numbers being dialed. It is smaller than the Stingray, black and gray in color, and can be controlled wirelessly by a conventional notebook PC using Bluetooth. You can even conceal it in a discreet-looking briefcase, according to marketing brochures. First used: Trademark records show that a registration for the Kingfish was filed in August 2001. Its “first use anywhere” is listed in records as December 2003.Cost: $25,349.
Agencies: Government agencies have spent about $13 million on Kingfish technology since 2006, sometimes as part of what is described in procurement documents as a “vehicular package” deal that includes a Stingray. The US Marshals Service; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Army; Air Force; state cops in Florida; county cops in Maricopa, Arizona; and Special Operations Command have all purchased a Kingfish in recent years.  (Photo & text from ars technica)

I did a previous post on the Kingfish.  Here is the link:

Banned material in the St Paul Libraries?

This week throughout the USA libraries are celebrating: Banned Book Week Celebrating the Freedom to Read.  If you go to many of the local libraries you may see a display of books on a table with paper wrapped around it saying banned.

In St Paul, there have been attempts in the library system to keep you from having access to materials.  This can be done in many ways.  The approach that most people do and use is by approaching library staff and complaining about material that they may have read or see on display.  A formal approach is to ask for "reconsideration"

The staff when they hear about challenges to materials which can include movies, books, even Cd's seem to not just "let it go" but take it seriously and discuss it with their colleagues.

I did several data practice requests with libraries to see what challenges/requests on materials they received over the past two years.  The St Paul Library System are the following:

(1) The Human Centipede, DVD
The patron stated the the "film is irrelevent, disgusting, indecent and totally without any
beneficial value to anyone."

(2) Miracles Every Day, Book
The customer objected to the book because it "develops into "selling" faith healing.  The objector of the material stated after researching the book on Google there were "accounts of various people who felt they'd for a scam" because they had to pay dollars to see the author.

(3) Quien ha visto mi orinal?/Who has seen my potty?, Book
The book is basically a toliet training book.  The objections were the use of the words "caca" and"culito."  The patron felt the words were not appropriate for little children.  Other than the previous two examples of possible banned material, this objection brought some discussion among the library staff.

What "caca" and "culito" meant was part of the conversation.  One perspective is that "caca" is "roughly equivalent to poop or crap." a library staff stated.  The staff person went on to say, "the" word "culito" which is a diminutive form of "culo," a word for a person's posterior that is a little stronger than "butt" but not as strong as "ass."  There was also discussion that regional variations of the language and dialect can play a role of emphasis and meaning of words.

(4) The Ranma 1/2, Teen Graphic Novel Series
Since it being a series of books there may be certain volumes that could be more objectionable than others.  The library user showed the library staff that there was "some nudity" in some of the material.  The staff was told by the man that some other library "removed" the book from the teen section and moved to the "adult" section.  Discussion took place between the librarian who stated that "reputable literary sources said it was appropriate for teens".

(5) The Birth of a Nation, DVD D.W. Griffith's well known movie has been the brunt of censorship discussion since the film was released in 1915.  This objection was a formal request for reconsideration by the user of the St Paul Public Library.  The objector stated everything in the movie is objectionable "particularly the way that Black people are depicted."  The person had viewed the entire film and further stated "even if it was made in 1915-it is even more deplorable today as it was then."

This "formal" reconsideration of material created the most buzz among the library staff.  There was a memo outlining reasons why to keep "Birth of a Nation":

"There's a fair amount of rhetoric about movies being a "universal language". D. W. Griffith more or-less invented that language, and Birth of a Nation is his most iconic work. Virtually every film history/theory class in every college in the country starts with Lumiere, Edison and Griffith. Those few that don't show Birth of a Nation are making a conscious effort to avoid the controversy and instead select a different Griffith film.

There are 129 different DVD records for Birth of a Nation in OCLC (it's now in the public domain, so any publisher can put out an edition). Records 1-10 alone account for 2290 libraries. If we were to remove it, we might actually be the only library in the country that carries DVDs not to own Birth of a Nation.

It was ranked #44 on the American Film Institutes 100 Years... 100 Movies list when initially released in 1998. It was not on the list when re-issued in 2007, no doubt because AFI was on the receiving end of some controversy. It was replaced at #49 by Griffith's Intolerance (his "apology" for the ideology in Birth). Both films were the only representative from before 1920 on their respective lists.

A quick survey of "Most Important (or Influential) Films" lists shows Birth or some less controversial Griffith stand-in on each one. TCM listed Birth among its 15 Most Influential Films of All Time. 

 Our copies of Birth of a Nation have been checked out 376 times.

 Yes, it contains things that are ideologically objectionable. I object to them. The KKK are represented heroically. Even though ideologically I agree with the complaints, I think that removing it would be counter-productive on those very grounds. I think lots of important historical artifacts - books, movies, whatever - have elements that we find offensive today, and yet if we have them available we can learn from them and think about them, whereas removing them represents a great whitewashing of history, creating a far more ideologically damaging present."

None of the material I wrote about were banned or censored from the St Paul Library System.  The staff it seems after reviewing the documents I got took patron's concerns seriously and acted upon them in due diligence.

Just another point:  Who are the selectors of materials at libraries and how do they choose what materials we get to see, watch, and hear?  Is that censorship?  Just wondering?  Another post maybe.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

City of St Paul keeping corrective recommendations about cops secret

Several weeks ago I saw in the Pioneer Press an article that described the millions of dollars that St Paul taxpayers had to pay for the bad behavior of some of the saintly city's cops.  What "intrigued" me about the article was the following statement:
"The city attorney's office sends memos to all city departments at the conclusion of lawsuits, which include recommendations for any changes. Grewing (City Attorney) said they're confidential under attorney-client privilege, so she can't specify what suggestions have been made, but sometimes they recommend changes to training."
When I saw this statement I said to myself, “That is not right - the public has a right to know."
The "corrective actions" that the St Paul Police Department are going to take should be public.  The public has paid out millions of dollars because of lawsuits over police actions, and they have a right to know what steps are being taken to correct those actions.
Should it be a secret what new training the St Paul Police Department is doing to make sure that the residents of St Paul are not beat upon?  Is it so "top secret" that the public should not know what policy changes are made to be sure that bad cops are held accountable by the Chief and the public?
I decided to approach St Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry's office and speak with her.  I had communicated with her in the past - most recently about the $300,000 plus payout for the violation by St Paul cops of Anne Rasmusson's privacy
Ms, Lantry was not available so I spoke with her staff person Ellen Biales.  I stated that the data should be public and I encouraged her to ask the appropriate people to make it public. Our interaction on this issue continued over the next couple of months, with her telling me yesterday that the memos that were given to the St Paul Police Department outlining "corrective actions" will remain secret under attorney/client privilege.

The memos she described to me do not deal with specific individual behavior, but recommendations for changes for the Police Department to make sure there's accountability.
Now I appreciate Ms. Biales and Council President's Lantry's office efforts to find out what the documents were about and to entertain my questions.  Whether or not Ms. Lantry wants to have those documents public is another matter.  But as my conversation with Ms. Biales ended yesterday in the hallway of City Hall she made it very clear to me they will not be public.
But Ms. Biales is not the person that decides … it is not the City Attorney who decides … it is the client.  The privilege rests with the client, not the City Attorney.  In this situation as in most municipalities and in the City of St Paul, the most logical person is Mayor Chris Coleman.
Mayor Coleman, the privilege should not be claimed here, and the memos should be public.
It is interesting to note that nearly $500,000 has already been spent in 2013 on settlements, courts costs, and staff time for bad cop behavior.
Will actions of the cops be corrected if the public does not know what the suggested recommendations for corrective action are?  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Terms and Conditions mean Transparency to You?

Over the past week I have been visiting (web surfing) various state and local government agency websites to see if they make reference to the Data Practices Act or let the public know how to make information requests on their first page (Home Page).  To me it is important for the public to have ease in order to seek information about themselves or their government.

But it seems the ease part is not what the government wants, either by design or ignorance.

I reviewed various websites and I then tweeted my grades and quick finds:

  1. Minn Dept of Labor & Industry gets an "F" for having no reference to data practices on website for public.
  2. As I do field trip of agencies see if easy 4 public w data practices I give MN Board of Nursing "F" No ref on website
  3. Minnesota Board of Psychology gets a "B" for having ref to data requests @ bottom of website...
  4. 3 in a row, agencies have no ref to Data Practices for public on website gets "F"
  5. Shame! Shame! Another state agency has no ref for public on data practices on website. An "F" for
  6. The Minn Dept of Health website gets "F" for not having reference or link to data practices for public. 

    The one website I spent the most time at was Metro Transit because I wanted to make a data practices request to Chief Harrington of Metro Transit Police.  I looked around the site for the Chief's email, but to no avail could not find it.   Are not email addresses of public employees public?  Yes, they are, but by visiting several websites such as Metro Transit the government agencies want to make it hard for public to know those email addresses.

    After about 10 minutes I found an email address through the Contact Us link at bottom of the home page of Metro Transit via the Metro Transit Police TipLine.  I sent my email and got a response from John Sigveland who is the Public Relations Manager of Metro Transit and also their data practices person.

    Mr Sigveland I decided to call for two reasons: (1) about my data request and, (2) about my "F" grade which I gave the Metro Transit website:

    11 Sep
    Sorry to say yr website not good for public to find out haw to make a data request.You get an "F"

    Mr. Sigveland's response to my question about placing a reference to how public can do data requests or a link on main page of the Metro Transit website was quite amazing.

    He stated that if you or I go to the Metropolitan Council website page, scrawl down to the bottom of the site and click on "Terms and Conditions" it will link you to a page dealing with data practices and how to make data requests.

    The first question came to my mind as I did what he told me to do:  Who would know that "Terms and Conditions" on the very bottom of the the Met Council website deals with how to make data requests?  The answer, NO ONE.

    My view is that the Metropolitan Council along with many other agencies are in a mindset to have barriers to make it hard for the public to ask for data and how to use the laws to make them more accountable by not having references to it on their front website page, the Homepage.

    It is either ignorance, forgetfulness, or planned and intended by agencies not to make it easy for public to know about a very useful tool for transparency and accountability.

    I gave a "B" to the Minnesota Board of Psychology for their reference to data requests on the their homepage.  I spoke with Angelina Barnes, Executive Director of the Board why she decided to do this.  Her comment was direct, "we serve the public"  If we can make it easier for them, it is better for us, seems to be her agencies motto.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cell-Phone tracking: Minn cops know where you are with KingFish

The Hennepin County Sheriff since the spring of 2010 has been using a device known as the KingFish which can track a cell phone without permission from a provider such as ATT, Verizon, and other similar companies.  The Sheriff was able to get this piece of high tech equipment with a Homeland Security grant.  The cost for the KingFish was $426,150.

Th Hennepin County Board gave approval for Sheriff Stanek to have the KingFish after postponing at least once because there were questions about legality, protocols, and procedures.  There was also discussion ever so slight and minimum in what situations will the "cell-phone sniffer" be used.  The Star Tribune did report on the Board's approval.

If one reviewed the meeting and the documents as I did one would see that there was very minimal information given to the Board on which laws could possibly restrict its use or guide it.  Kip Carver, of the Hennepin County Sheriffs office gives oblique comments such as meeting legal thresholds and that they will get a County Attorney's opinion to help them with their legal standards.  But there were no questions as to what those legal thresholds were. The Hennepin County Board voted to get the KingFish in my judgement without much debate and information.  Commissoner Mike Opat voted against it.

With it being now over 3 years since Sheriff Stanek got this new high-tech tool it's time to check to see how Minnesota's largest county is using it.

The use of the KingFish does in my judgement have some constitutional issues and implications with a recent US Supreme Court decision, United States v Jones.  Also even before the Court decision, Minnesota had statutes governing electronic monitoring.

Has Hennepin County Sheriff's office been following our state privacy laws?  How are they making sure they are not violating or even on the borderline of violating our state and federal 4th Amendment rights?

The only document or statement provided about the KingFish before the County Board was the following:

"Cellular Exploitation System (Kingfish) - $426,150
Description: This equipment would be used in the Sheriff's investigations bureau. The
system acts as a mobile wireless phone tower and has the capability to find, track and/or deny mobile phone service. Acting as its own tower, this device can receive information from all mobile phones that are powered on within a predetermined radius.  This allows investigators to gain mobile phone intelligence regarding suspects involved in criminal activity"

In other words, can track cell phones, when they are not being used by you.  The KingFish device is its own cell tower, picking up signals from all phones that are turned on.

According to the March 23, 2010 StarTribune article:

"Inspector Kip Carver told the Board prior to the vote that the department is committed to using "best practices" in using the system and that it will seek opinions from the Hennepin County attorney's office and draw up guidelines on when and how the system will be used."

So, Inspector (now Major) Carver, to see how accountable the Hennepin County Sheriffs office has been with the KingFish I have submitted a data practices request.  Secondly, though I encourage the Hennepin County Board to follow up on their decision of 2010 with some tough questions as to whether or not the KingFish is "fishing" legally or illegally, or on the borderline.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also has a KingFish, the same questions and oversight should be asked of that agency.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Minn Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA): SLOW DOWN

After I finished reading the Star Tribune story on MSFA's kick into "high gear" I thought of this song by Simon and Garfunkel, "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)" 

Remember the words "Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last."

This is what the MSFA needs to do.

I find puzzling Ms. Kelm-Helgen's statement "We don't have much time here, and I'm concerned about the schedule."  Well don't be.  Assume leadership and say we want to do "due diligence" on the Wilf's financial info and want to be sure that they are in the position to finance their end of the bargain on the new Viking's Stadium.  It has been my experience over the decades observing and participating in the governmental process that speed and due diligence do not mix.

Such an undertaking as the Viking's Stadium deal for sure needs to take the time to make sure all the i's and t's are dotted and crossed.  The public also needs to have confidence in this late go around of research and "follow the money" scenarios.  

By the way at the end of the process the audit/investigatory report should be public as Governor Mark Dayton has promised.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Shh! Chief Harteau's advisory board at work in secret

A number of people selected by Minneapolis Police Chief Harteau for an advisory panel to help with the Departments problems are currently meeting as the Chief said in a tweet to me doing: "subcommittee meetings w sharing of ideas, perspectives & thoughts, with specific recommendations to rpt to full committee"

But again this is all being done in secret with a sense of anonymity and total disregard for transparency.

Now who are the who's, who are deciding the direction with recommendations about the Minneapolis Police Department's perennial problems and are meeting in secret without the public input?

A good question, as WCCO's Jason DeRusha would say.  I did a data practices request and got the names.

I encourage the public and particularly those people who want to finally put a stop to the antics and bad behavior of some Minneapolis cops and to rid of the institutional patterns, policies, and practices that perpetuate the same bad behavior over and over again to:

(1) Demand public meetings of the Chief's advisory council and it's subcommittee meetings.

(2) Contact the Advisory Council members to see and hear what they are saying and doing.

As a quote I read only recently is how the Chief and the Advisory Council should guide iself:

         "Only by opening our doors can we build trust, and truly serve and protect"

The Minneapolis Police Department is not doing this now.

Please note below are the names of the Chief's Advisory Council as given to me exactly by Minneapolis Police Department and my tweet interaction w Chief Harteau:

Hassan Mohamud
Somalia Community Islamic Dawah Center

Bill Ziegler American Indian Community
Executive Director Little Earth of United Tribes

William Means American Indian Community
MN O.I.C. Council

Bishop Richard Howell Arnetta Phillips  African American Community
Shiloh Temple

Renee Jenson  Mental Health Community
The Barbara Schneider Foundation

Mark Anderson
The Barbara Schneider Foundation Mental Health Community

Pastor Charles Graham  Reverend Joan Austin
Macedonia Baptist Church Bapist Church

Silvia Ontaneda
Consulate General of Ecuador to Minnesota Ecuadorian Community

Harry Davis Jr Circle of Discipline

Dominick Bouza Salvation Army Harbor Lights
Operations Director The Salavation Arny Harbor Lights Center

Amay Yang Hmong Community Executive Director
Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association

Fr. Michael O'Connell Catholic Church
Ascension Church

Shane Zane Downtown Improvement DID
Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District

Joanne Kaufman Warehouse District
Executive Director, WDBA

Phil Davis Mpls Community College
President, Minneapolis Community and Technical College

Jana Metge
Citizens for a Loring Park Community 1st Precinct

Michael Rainville
Resident NE Mpls 2nd Precinct

Kate Lee
Near North Neighborhood 4th Precinct

Doris Overby
Standish Neighborhood 3rd Precinct

Marian Behr 5th Precinct Executive Director
Whittier Alliance

Adonis Frazier Circle of Discipline

VJ Smith  Makrim El-Amin MAD DADs

John Delmonico MPD Federation

Sondra Samuels Northside Achievement Zone

Scott Gray Mpls Urban League

Velma Korbel  Director of Civil Rights
City of Minneapolis

Michael Browne ` Director OPCR

12 Aug

  1. Now if the next meeting of advisory group not til September. What are they working on now during interim?
  2. ; subcommittee meetings w sharing of ideas, perspectives & thoughts, with specific recommendations to rpt to full committee

Friday, August 16, 2013

MNsure: Locked doors and names

This past week I visited the offices of MNsure, Minnesota's new health exchange program.  They are located in a newly renovated building in downtown St Paul.  There was no sign yet stating that MNsure was there, but I had help in locating it by people being trained to be possible navigators or something like that in another building.

I went to the building where MNsure was in, but low and behold the door is locked.  No sign stating how I can get in contact with them, zero, zip info.  I knocked on the window for someone to let me in so I could go to a public agency of the state to ask a question or two and to see the status of my data practices request.  To no avail, people looked at me through the window, but I did not have my Sunday dress on so I was ignored.

All of a sudden a person entered the door with his special pass key and let himself in.  I followed indicating I want to go to MNsure.  He stated it was on third floor.

The elevator door opens and I proceed to the MNsure office.  Do not remember for sure, but I believe that door was locked too.  Anyway I got through the door.  I introduced myself, stating I would like to speak with either their General Counsel or Data Practices person.

As I was waiting to see if they would be able to talk with me I noticed three conference rooms in MNsure's reception area, large rooms with temporary paper sheets posted near the doorways.

Each room from left to right was named Atkins, Lourey, and Dayton.  When I saw this I was flabbergasted because I have not seen conference rooms in government agencies named after living and still serving public officials.  I thought it was just downright cornball and trite.

I have no problem with Representative Atkins, Senator Lourey, and Governor Dayton I have worked with them all and I regard them highly, but naming a room after them while they are still living or still in office, come on.

I decided to communicate with someone at MNsure about this.  I stated that naming the conference rooms after living elected officials is hokey.  The person then asked what names I would suggest.  I suggested two names immediately, former Minnesota elected officials Arne Carlson and Linda Berglin.  These two people worked together on health care, Ms. Berglin (DFL) and Mr. Carlson (GOP) in the early nineties on MNCARE.

I was told by the MNsure staff person, good suggestions, but the names of Atkins, Lourey, and Dayton will remain.

I do not believe in naming anything for people who are living and a current elected official.  Do not know if MNsure will get nice name plaques on the doors, but if they do it's like putting a campaign sign out there as long as they are current living elected officials.

But wait if they keep their doors locked like a fortress and access for the public is nil no one may ever see the signs.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

St Paul cops new toy (cameras) for surveillance, raises ongoing issues

With fanfare the St Paul Police announced their new toy to be used for law enforcement purposes.  Its a mobile real time camera or cameras that can placed almost anywhere to observe the public in its coming and goings.  

Granted, St Paul Police have used stationary cameras over the last decade to monitor and do surveillance on its citizens, but questions about this new tool and their current surveillance program need questions answered.  Some of them are as follows: How effective is their surveillance program?  What has been the impact on the public's privacy and liberty? Do they keep snippets of video on people without a criminal investigation?  Do they have a audit process to see who views the scenes captured and to make sure they are destroyed if there is no criminal investigation?

I have addressed the issue of surveillance and cameras before in a previous post entitled:  Cops and cameras----Modern peeping toms?

As with the license plate readers, St Paul Police had a big roll out to promote that new technology, but rebuffed privacy and liberty concerns by saying something like this, "Hey we are just taking pictures of plates in the public, and furthermore there is no privacy in public, anyway."  Well, based on the debate in the Minnesota House of Representatives on license plate readers  (HF 474) I would beg to differ. 

The "new portable high-tech surveillance camera" that St Paul is on the hunt for is much different than the cameras used in the RNC 2008 surveillance activities.  Technology moves fast and improves on tools that we use in our everyday life or used by law enforcement.

With the possibility of St Paul and other cities/towns getting new and improved cameras there should  be public discussion.  Does the law enforcement agency have policies/protocols?  Is the camera equipped with the ability to do facial recognition with high probability with a match from Minnesota Drivers License photo database or MRAP data base?  Is the new real time camera or cameras equipped with sophisticated microphones to listen to people's conversations as they go down the street?

See I believe, you and me have a right to privacy in public places in many circumstances and situations.

As Robert Ellis Smith, one of the leading privacy advocates for nearly 4 decades and the publisher of Privacy Journal states:

"Simply because the cameras are in public places does not mean that the right to privacy does not protect many of the activities captured in the millions of images.  To concede these points is to default on our birthrights of privacy, autonomy, and anonymity, even in "public" places."