Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Shenanigans never quits at Minnesota Capitol

Some rascality on transparency came into the legislative committee process today.  Before the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, HF 181 (Outdoor heritage fund money appropriated, outdoor heritage fund money requirements modified, previous appropriation modified, and appropriating money) bill was heard.  This is the bill that deals with the money for the various Legacy projects related to "outdoors" and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.  Among the amendments put on the bill was this one.

The amendment deals with the Open Meeting Law and how the Lessard-Sams Council operates under that law.  The purpose of the post today is not to go into detail about concerns and issues with the specific amendment, but how the public was informed about this change.

First of all there is some history, on the issue of transparency and openness of the Lessard-Sams Council.  Four years ago, there was a big House floor fight on accountability and transparency about the Lessard-Sams Council.  The media covered it from Minnesota Public Radio to an open government blog writer, "The Legacy bill and Open Meeting"   The bottom line what came out of that floor fight and what became policy was the importance of accountability and clarity of how millions of public dollars are spent.

Now in 2015, four years later, Rep. Denny McNamara who is the Chief Author of HF 181 and who believed in 2011 that Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council should not be under the strict accountability of the Open Meeting Law has placed this amendment on the bill.

I remember four years ago, Rep. McNamara making comments to me past midnight after the floor fight.  He did not like what I did.(lobbying against the Legacy Conference Committee bill which allowed Lessard-Sams Council to be less accountable and transparent). In other words, he was mad.

This morning when I found out about the amendment I went to his office, since 2011, Mr. McNamara and I have talked many times.  I asked him what the amendment does.  He was short for time, but I was able to ask a quick question.  Why did you not introduce the amendment as a bill?  An answer was shouted by his aide saying it was posted on the committee website.

But for me posting an amendment on the committee website about the Lessard-Sams Council/Open Meeting Law that affects how it can and will be perceived by the public as it makes recommendations how millions of dollars being spent-----does not cut it.  Particularly, by the person who is the Chief Author of the bill, he should be astute to that.

I had hoped that Representative McNamara would have thought about four years ago and the long floor fight on the Open Meeting issue.  In so doing, he would have thought of need and notice to the public about these kind of changes and the need for transparency.

It is still early in the 2015 legislative session.  Amendments to bills that deal with transparency and open government can still be done as proposals introduced as House File.......rather than amendment...........

Shenanigans in my view, do not need to start yet...this early.


The Legacy bill and Open Meeting

The Failed Promise of the Legacy Amendment

Unfizzling the Failed Promise of The Legacy Amendment

Legacy projects offbeat? Is not Legacy Amendment unusual?

LCCMR & Lessard-Sams heads should be protected from politics 

What and Which Conflict of Interest Is It?







Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Opportunity to hear about body cameras, license plate readers (LPR), public health care program data, and more.

MNCOGI to present data policy priorities

On January 28, 2015, MNCGOI (Minnesota Coalition on Government Information) will present its data policy priorities for the 2015 Minnesota legislative session. MNCOGI board member Don Gemberling will address MNCOGI’s views on body cameras, license plate readers (LPR), public health care program data, and more.

The event is open to the public, and will be held in room 181 of the State Office Building from 11:00am to noon on January 28. A livestream provided by The Uptake will be available at Contact MNCOGI with questions at, or call legislative issues committee chair Matt Ehling at 612-335-2037.

MNCOGI is an all-volunteer non-profit dedicated to government transparency and accountability.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Minnesota BCA gets "F" for chicanery on Stingray

Anyone who involves themselves in the study of government knows an endearing principle of it.  There must be trust between it (government) and the people or individual.  Many of us strive for that on the local, state, and Federal level.  But when the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension does the kind of behavior exposed by the Star Tribune today which is dark and noxious, the public and Legislature need to step in and ask questions and get answers.

If one reviews the record of the Star Tribune's and my interactions with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (Division within DPS) in using the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act over the past 15 months to get access to documents such as the contract between the Harris Corporation and DPS, it is indisputable, the tricks and antics the Department of Public Safety did to stifle access to public information.  This is shameful and does not stand to what sound and open government is all about.

First, if one looks closely at the date of the contract the BCA dumped on late Friday afternoon you will notice the contract with the Harris Corporation is dated August 18, 2014.  "On June 18, 2014, Star Tribune reporter James Shiffer emailed DPS Commissioner Ramona Dohman, requesting access to (1) the Department's contracts related to "Stingray II" and "Kingfish" cellular exploitation equipment and (2) non-disclosure agreements ("NDAs") related to that equipment."  Mr. Shiffer did not get the contract or contracts dated previously to June 18, 2014.  Why?  Where are the old contracts?

Another example, in response to my requests to review and inspect Stingray and Kingfish contract data which I had done 3 times since September of last year. I got this from the BCA, dated February 14, 2014:

"we explained that the data is considered both deliberative process data under Minn. Stat. §13.82, Subd. 25 as disclosure would reveal information regarding investigative techniques that would compromise ongoing and future criminal investigations.  In addition, we previously noted that the data was also trade secret information pursuant to Minn. Stat. §13.37, Subd. 1(b). We continue to classify this contract under these two statutes and the contract cannot be released as such."

With Mr. Shiffer, they use the same identical arguments in an email sent to him by Bruce Gordon, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety to deny him the contract and non-disclosure agreement.

When one assesses the contract it is very clear that the whole document is neither a trade secret nor information that would compromise on-going and future criminal investigations.

To further the point of BCA's misguided behavior, when the Star Tribune asked the Commissioner of Administration to rule on the Department of Public Safety's (BCA) behavior, the Department argued that the:

"The documents were withheld in their entirety due to the fact that heavy redaction of the documents was so intertwined with the public data that we were unable to separate the public from the protected data in a meaningful manner."

What kind of babble and mumbo jumbo is this from the leaders of the Department of Public Safety and BCA?  When one reviews both documents, the FBI/BCA agreement and Harris Corporation contract, one cannot take this argument seriously.

When one evaluates the entire process of the Star Tribune's and my experience in trying to get public data from the BCA on this matter it is pure "mental stress or discomfort experienced" by BCA and DPS "who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values." (cognitive dissonance).  The issue is to what beliefs, ideas, or values are the people who head the agency and the division (BCA) to hold.  Their own or the public's.

The FBI agreement raises a number of issues and questions to be asked specifically of the appropriate people in an open hearing held by the suitable committees of the Minnesota Legislature.  Is the signing of the agreement by the BCA a violation of state law?  Forwarding information on a legal request for public information to the federal government?  Are there situations where defendants Fourth Amendment rights or innocent Minnesotans privacy or liberties been compromised as it appears has happened in other states with such devices as the Stingray?  Have individuals been mislead because of the FBI/BCA agreement?

This section of the FBI agreement is troubling among others:

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Department of Public Safety's conduct and actions need scrutiny in an open and public hearing.  To make them accountable for the behavior they have exhibited in efforts to suffocate elected public officials, the Minnesota Legislature, and public inquiries how a law enforcement agency spends public $$$ on tools that compromises our liberty and privacy.


Below are links to documents the reader of this post may have an interest in:

The Department of Public Safety's response to Commissioner of Administration on Star Tribune's request for an opinion:

The Star Tribune's request for the Commissioner of Administration to issue an opinion to make BCA release requested documents:

The BCA documents with the Harris Corporation and the FBI:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mayor Hodges, gang wannabe on "list"?

Since last week when KSTP reported about her Honor doing gang signs she may be already listed as a "wannabe" in the Minneapolis gang file or Bureau of Criminal Apprehension data system.

Mayor Hodges met one of the nine criteria which the Minnesota's Violent Crime Coordinating Council (VCCC) has adopted as gang criteria.  The nine-point guidelines are used throughout  Minnesota to keep track of "wannabes", associates, and gang members.

Number 5 of the nine point criteria is the following:

"#5 Appears in a Photograph or Image with a Gang Member Engaging in Gang-Related Activity or Displaying Gang Signs or Symbols:

• Photographs or images should depict evidence of gang-related criminal activity, such as a person holding a gun and wearing or displaying gang-related signs, symbols, clothing or graffiti.

• A single photograph or image with a gang member, absent any depiction of criminal gang-related activity or displaying gang-related signs, symbols, clothing or graffiti, may count only as one of three documented occasions of association in the previous 12-month period under criterion #8."

"Wannabe" Hodges makes the grade by "or displaying gang-related signs"......or if the Minneapolis Police Department or other entity has listed Mr. Gordon as a gang member.

Mayor Hodges being "listed" in a gang database, more than likely not.  But I make the point in this post how easy it is to be labeled by cops, as they gather information on people and then share it.  In many instances it's shared within the cop community, not "leaked" to the news media.  That is the still the outstanding question of #pointergate who confirmed within law enforcement the gang-related nature of the gang sign by the mayor, who download the image, and then leaked it.

Important to remember history in our community, about 5 years ago, Minnesota law enforcement community had thousands of people listed in a system called GangNet which was later disbanded for a number of negative reasons.  Are Minnesota cops going to their old behavior?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mayor Hodges, #pointergate, and social media spying

The KSTP story with Mayor Hodges doing stylish finger pointing has created a real buzz.  But for me the underlying issues of this episode that the public or media are not asking about or may not understand need to be explored. Where did the picture come from?  Was it a part of a law enforcement agency or agencies social media monitoring and surveillance activities that the picture was discovered? Or more of a direct question: Is it relevant to and interest of the public to know if an agency is engaging in cyber stalking of people, data collected for unknown purposes and then share with others?

As I have stated in posts before, law enforcement and investigative agencies of government are like vacuum cleaners, if they had their druthers they would suck up everything on everyone.  As we know with the use of license plate readers and cell phone surveillance, cops are looking for data which may be helpful immediately or maybe sometime in the future. (collect multitude bits of data on innocent people)
In doing data requests of several law enforcement agencies on their role of using social media for monitoring and surveillance purpose.  I have learned about some of their activities and thinking. The requests I did were like the following:

"Pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act I want to inspect and review all policies, procedure, protocols, or government data that are used to apply and use social media in law enforcement purposes.  Many law enforcement agencies are now in the social media environment using it for marketing, branding, and listening/monitoring to collect and gather information for investigative and intelligence purposes." (West St Paul Police Department example)

The response I got from the agencies was basically, yes we do this kind of behavior, but we have no polices/protocols or we are working on them.  That was 18 months ago. 

But now with interest is piqued again and which was the motivator of this post

What is the trigger that creates interest of an investigative agency in a post, or picture on such social media site to where it is copied and distributed? When I discuss with others about government's behavior of monitoring/surveillance of social sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and other similar venues.  The first response is: "It's public.  You post it, you wrote it, take the consequences."  True, so true, it's "out there" but we do have a right to know if the government is monitoring, keeping an eye on, and overseeing us.

One possibility of how her honor's (Mayor Hodges) picture came to public light is that an investigator was doing social media trolling of "persons of interest."  Saw the picture and said, WOW! The Mayor's prominent "finger pointing" may just reveal the method and mode of how enforcement agencies obtain and use information from the Internet.  But what’s not evident and straightforward, is how social media data has been and are being collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated by Minnesota local and state governmentt enforcement agencies.

If one asks the media spokesperson for a government agency such as Minnesota Department of Public Safety, or Mayor Hodges press person, if they monitor social media they will say yes.  The purpose for is to get an idea of what the community may be saying about them.  But it is much different when an enforcement agency such as Minneapolis Police, Minnesota Department of Revenue, and others monitor and surveil individuals.

I do not know if Minnesota state or local agencies have sophisticated systems monitoring social media, but keeping the Stingray device secret for 8 years, who knew they had a cool and svelte spy device.  This is why there needs to be questions and direct answers by local and state agencies that do this kind of behavior.

Government enforcement agencies more than likely have a process of social media surveillance as simple as looking on the Internet to see if Rich Neumeister has a Facebook or Twitter account.  Or they can buy into services or get software to do social media surveillance.

Here is another example of private parties doing "big data" surveillance on Facebook and Twitter for law enforcement purposes.

Based on my discussions with law enforcement officials and data requests, many local and state agencies are trawling and spreading the data it collects and retains, but do they have the appropriate procedures, protocols, and policies with public and legislative review, more than likely not.