Monday, October 13, 2014

City of Rochester and the right to know

When I was in Duluth in August I overwhelmed by the response by the public who very much wanted to know and learn about this tool (law) called the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  There was a hunger for residents of that fine city to learn about why their elected officials are destroying a great stretch of canopied trees on 4th Street.   There were several people engaged with agencies in trying to get information about themselves in pursuant of their due process rights. Numerous reasons why the people were there, but one common thread connected them......they wanted data about themselves or about the government that is involved in their daily lives.

In Rochester next week, there will be an activity to continue the empowerment of residents of Minnesota:

"On Tuesday, October 21, 2014, Saint Paul-based non-profit Public Record Media (PRM) will host a Freedom of Information (FOI) workshop at the Heintz Center at Rochester Community and Technical College. The Henitz Center is located as 1926 College View Road, SE, in Rochester. The event will run from 6:00pm-8:00pm in the Heintz Commons.

The workshop will explore how members of the public can use FOI laws – both Minnesota and federal – to obtain government records of interest to them. The presentation will feature comments by Rich Neumeister, a long-time record requester and open government advocate. An introduction will be given by PRM president Matt Ehling."

Over the past weeks since Matt and I were in Duluth we have heard from people who have used the Data Practices Act to gather data on policy matters and to fight for their due process rights.  After the intensive almost 2 hour workshop, one could see in many of the faces of people who were there that they may not be a lawyer, professional journalist, or researcher, but were a resident/citizen and they had a right to know more about their government.  And they were going to use this new tool (Data Practices Act) they learned.

See you in Rochester!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What's Minn Legislative Privacy/Data Commission's next move?

For many long time advocates of privacy and open government at the Minnesota Legislature, yesterdays meeting of the Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy may prove to be a turning point for the residents of Minnesota.  For years the Legislature when a specific issue of privacy/open government and advanced technology clash the policymakers take a stab at it, think they have solved the problem, but technology sneakily bypasses the law.

This was the situation with the warrant bill for cell phone location last session.  Law enforcement was not knocking on policymakers doors saying we have concerns for the liberty and privacy of Minnesota residents and we wish to update the law to make law enforcement more accountable and to protect the privacy of the people we serve.  The last time til this past session that "Privacy of Communications" law was updated in a major way was in 1989.  It took a couple of interested legislators for major change for the protection of privacy and law enforcement accountability after 25 years, Senator Branden Peterson and Rep. Joe Atkins (cell phone  location privacy bill)

The discussion and debate, and the engaging dialogue and questioning of testifiers, at the Commission meeting shows that rather than the Legislature take a "one bill to solve a problem approach" they may decide to take the big picture view.
That "big picture" view is one acknowledging being that technology is always changing, need to have flexible laws to adopt to that change, but also to have a broad framework to protect the privacy, liberty, and freedom of Minnesotans and access to public data that is so important for an informed populace.

There was also a theme that was quite directed at the law enforcement representatives by the Commission not surprise the public and Minnesota Legislature with your new surveillance technologies without talking to the public and policymakers.  For years and the behavior continues even as write this post, law enforcement has a penchant for secrecy and believes they do not need to be held accountable.  That needs to change as many Commission members made clear.

The Commission members also took a survey of themselves to see what issues they may prioritize  for the next several months.

The issues were:
-Drone regulation
-Education/Student data collection
-Enforcement of the Data Practices Act within government entities
-Government technologies used for collection of data in general
-Health care data issues
-Inventory of technology government has already purchased and how it is being used
-Legislative Auditor's reports on data practices in regards to data practices
-Organization of state statutes on data practices
-Political subdivisions increasing data collection requirements for certain business practices
-Review of what other states are doing
-State Agency policies on data sales and the revenue generated
-Timberjay bill issues (bulk data and health plan issues)

Results forthcoming!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Is your shopping mall spying on you?

LPR's  — which record photos of license plates  — have been installed over various entrances and exits to the Mall of America.  What is different than local law enforcement use of LPR is a partnership between a private entity and a local government agency to gather and collect location data on many thousands - if not hundred of thousands - of vehicles, which in turn are tied to people.

In August of 2012, before the LPR cameras were purchased and placed at the Mall of America, Bloomington Police collected 577, 859 LPR scans of vehicles for the month.  In May of 2014, the total number of BPD scans topped 1, 150, 719 — it more than doubled.

Through a data practices request, I received a memo of understanding (MOU) between the City of Bloomington and the Mall of America (MOA ) that allows the Bloomington Police Department to install LPR cameras - possibly as many as 16 - at the Mall to do surveillance activity.

The LPR's were purchased by the Bloomington Police Department (BPD) with grants from the US Department of Homeland Security and the State of Minnesota Department of Commerce.  The agreement highlights that the LPR's are for the "security of the Mall, to identify vehicles that pose a threat to public safety, or have a warrant issued for the vehicle’s owner."    But also used "for the identification of potential criminals."

The Mall of America has been a focal point of civil liberty and privacy concerns in the past.  In reporting done by National Public Radio and the Center for Investigative Reporting there were issues of how the Mall was handling suspicious activities reporting and "disrupting innocent people's lives."

What does the Mall of America specifically do with the data it collects?  How long do they keep it? Should Mall of America customers be given notice that their license plate is being searched, examined, and compared against a "hot list?"  It is clear the Mall of America gets "identification of vehicles entering the MOAC property."  Is this only the picture of vehicle and license plate number?  The agreement states that the Mall does not collect from BPD "data relating to the registration or ownership of these vehicles" that are scanned.  But it is easy to "buy" bulk lists of drivers license and registration as highlighted in the most recent Minnesota legislative session when the issue of access to drivers license and registration was part of major discussion.  Is the Mall of America buying this kind of data and pairing it up with the "identification of vehicle" for numerous purposes?

It is not just law enforcement taking a bite out of your privacy and liberty with the license plate readers, but the Mall of America is doing the same.

Update/Note: I spoke with Chief Potts after this post was initially published and he stated that the Mall of America is not getting any "identification of vehicles" contrary to what I was told by Bloomington Police Department previously.  Attempt was made to contact Mall of America public relations to comment on story with message left, but no return call.