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.