Monday, July 21, 2014

Stingray contract/agreement Minnesotan's need to see

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety/Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (DPS/BCA) has consistently refused me and most recently the Star Tribune to release and make public the contract/non-disclosure agreement between the Harris Corporation and DPS/BCA.  The Harris Corporation has received over $600,000 of state funds, for equipment known as Stingray and Kingfish.  The dollars have been used to purchase, maintain and upgrade the equipment.  Upgrades can also be done to Stingray that allows for interception of individual phone calls.

What does DPS/BCA wish to hide from the public?  Names of the people who signed the contract?  The dates that the contract was signed?  The amount of public dollars spent?  Will it show if contract/agreement is released to public that DPS/BCA is violating state law and doing illegal behavior?

DPS/BCA has argued to me and I presume the Star Tribune the whole contract/non-disclosure agreement cannot be released because it is trade secret and it compromises law enforcement techniques.  Sorry to say that both assertions are false and can be easily discredited.

Release the contract/agreement with the appropriate redaction's.  It's possible that the contract/agreement may contain data that can be appropriately classified, and if so, DPS/BCA should redact those data. That empowers me and the public to understand the context of any censoring.

In the contract/agreement there is presumptively public data that should be made available to Minnesotans and me, to think otherwise is stupidity and irrationality on the part of the Department of Public Safety/Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Residents should not accept SWLRT as is, fight it

Listening to Mayor Betsy Hodges and others it seems that people who oppose Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) should just go home, put their heads in the sand and give up.  I would not do that if I had my druthers.  Why?

Because of this court case, RESIDENTS IN PROTEST—I-35E v. DOLE which was decided in the mid-eighties.  What happened is a group of established citizens and residents of the Summit Hill area sued the Federal Government. Uncertainty of the outcome did not stop the RIP-35E group from filing civil suits in the courts.  They won and got major concessions.

As the Star Tribune says today in its coverage of the SWLRT deal:

     "Minneapolis officials long insisted they wouldn't stomach a light-rail line next to
       freight tracks in a part of the city popular with bicyclists, hikers and canoeists."

But what city officials actually did is not "stomach" this proposal, but break a promise to the residents of the communities that are impacted by the rail development.  It seems that the state, Met Council, Hennepin County Board, the Mayor, and others are evoking and conjuring up their points as to why SWLRT should become a reality.  This type of behavior was also done to place the road of 35 E below Summit Hill of St Paul.  But people organized, but they also had one other thing, monetary resources.

The Kenwood and Kenilworth neighborhoods of Minneapolis, and others who want to fight on in regards to the SWLRT I encourage you to do so. Granted, you may be called names, may cost money and time, but you would be protecting your community.

Some one's action of going to court and sue to block the project would definitely create uncertainty and upset a number of private and public sector entities,  so what, is that not what we do in a democracy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rules for school tools, privacy in danger.

The surprise announcement by the District administrators to have every St Paul student be given an Ipad (mini-laptop) took many people (even the school board) and public by surprise.  The coverage by the two daily newspapers recently has received front page attention.  The St Paul School District decided to completely shift gears from what they told voters last year when we voted for a school tax referendum. As soon as I read the articles the questions started to flow. Would there be a parent anywhere who would support the school district’s actions to abrogate their families and children's privacy rights? Does the Ipad initiative violate students/family privacy and liberty rights?  Does the School district have the right to install devices in the Ipads that allow monitoring and surveillance of where students go and what they do? What are the choices that parents and students have?

I spoke with a school board member who said to me that students/parents may not have a right to privacy with Ipads. The member, said their private employer asked the board member to sign away their right to privacy. I said correct, but an employer can ask you to waive away your privacy, but it's different with government, the member's employer is not a government entity.  Can it be a requirement to waive your 1st and 4th Amendment privacy rights and liberty as a condition for receiving an Ipad from the St Paul School District?  Is that illegal in itself?

When I asked Karen Randall, a leader in the Ipad initiative for the district, if there are rules in place to protect student's and families privacy with the school issued Apple Ipad's?  I did not get a clear and straight answer.  She referred to a study that was done last year by a security specialist.  She also tacked on there was input by community people at the same time.  But that was a year ago when Ipad's were not in the school district's dreams or where they?  But are there comprehensive and detailed rules in place to protect student's and families privacy?  What rationale and standards are there for a school official to get access to data on the Ipad?  I would say the answer is NO

It seems that the St Paul School District wants to develop their own privacy policies without any input from the community and parents. Parents, students, and community members should demand that our school district have very clear rules with input from the public.The school board should demand and necessitate a group of parents, privacy people, and others to suggest what the rules for the tools should be.  Not dictated by the school district management which in my judgement do not know what they're doing when it comes to technology and protection of privacy/liberty.

The questions still flow. What kind of data sharing or collection will there be with Apple?  What will they do with it?  Will the issued Ipads track student's activity and block certain websites including social media? Will the discriminatory barrier stay in place after the school hours?
Will  social sites be blocked?  How about YouTube and other kinds of sites?

The St Paul School District through the Ipad Apple program will collect details about students and families that they have never done before.  With privacy there is a lack of trust with institutions, such as the public schools.  By engaging the community with diligence on the data privacy issues on the Ipad program with respect..........the school district can make a significant step forward in building a trust relationship between parents, students, and schools.  What are the rules for the tools?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Cell phone spy devices used multitude of times, but no documentation

Since last September with my first data request to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, I have been finding out more and more how the agency has been very secretive to keep from the public and policymakers information.  Information that the public and policymakers have a right to have.

What we Minnesotan's have found out since last last fall is that the Bureau since 2005 has spent hundreds of thousands of public dollars on devices that can locate and pinpoint individuals very precisely.  Through data requests and the media we have found out that these devices have been used hundreds of times by the Bureau and local law enforcement agencies.  These devices have also collected data on innocent people who may be in the area of the suspect that law enforcement targets.

I went through hundreds of pages of the Bureau's inactive criminal investigative files where the Kingfish/Stingray has been used.  I leave after reviewing the files a feeling the Bureau makes it an utmost priority to leave as little as one can any mention of these devices.

Even though the Bureau continues in its realm of secrecy on the spy cell devices, they responded to a request I made a couple of weeks ago.

The data request was based on the following facts.  The Bureau uses the Stingray/Kingfish for their investigative purposes.  Per the BCA inactive criminal investigations I reviewed the devices were only used a handful of times.  On the other hand, the Bureau borrows/arranges for its use to other law enforcement agencies.  The devices are used "roughly" 100 times a year per their spokesperson. (April 23, 2014-----"Senate passes phone surveillance bill" Politics in Minnesota)

I asked for documentation in the borrowing/arranging behavior in the use of the Bureau's Stingray/Kingfish by other Minnesota law enforcement agencies. The use of these devices by other agencies in the "surveillance" of  Minnesotans in my estimation is several hundred times since 2008. What I got in response from the Bureau last week was this:

"Mr. Neumeister,

I am writing to follow-upon this request. 

The information you reference is an estimation based on the current number of times we believe we have used this equipment and not a firm or exact number.  We have no documentation regarding the times we have utilized our cellular exploitation equipment for an outside agency.

Thus, we have no further data responsive to your request at this time. 

Based on the increased level of interest in this technology we are in currently assessing how we document the use of this technology in future cases." 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tales of Stingray and Kingfish continue w hook of data request

As many readers of this post know since September of last year I have been doing data requests and lobbying for a bill at the Minnesota Legislature that would give greater protections for Minnesotans when government entities want access to your personal and sensitive location data.  Well that bill passed and became law.

For me though, questions still remain about the usage of the Kingfish/Stingray and the recent disclosure that these devices have been used hundreds of times by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.  In effort to find out what was the rationale for its usage so many times I am continuing with data requests under our Minnesota Government Data Practice Act. (statute)

This is part of a recent data request I sent to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety which the Bureau is a division of.

"Pursuant to media coverage, the cellular exploitative devices known as the Kingfish/Stingray have been used hundreds of times over the past several years.  
I have reviewed approximately 20 cases that the devices were used specifically by the BCA for BCA cases that the agency was responsible for.  I have done this pursuant to previous data requests.

This appeared recently in the the newspaper, "Politics in Minnesota"

"Currently, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are the main agencies known to use such technology. The BCA uses it roughly 100 times a year, according to a spokeswoman."

What I am requesting per Chapter 13 is to inspect and review all government data that documents the usage of the cellular exploitative devices since 2008 with other agencies or entities.

In my discussion with......why the usage of cellular exploitative devices hundreds of times, but so few inactive criminal investigative files held by the BCA to document the usage.  ......indicated that BCA will act many times in a supportive role in the use of exploitative cellular devices, therefore no case file because "it's" not their case.

But I do believe there must be documentation when an device such as the Kingfish/Stingray is used in a supportive role as described to me by........

I want under Chapter 13 to review and inspect all government data that documents the usage of the cellular exploitative devices (Kingfish/Stingray) since 2008 with other agencies or entities."

I left out the name of the person I spoke with.  But what you see here is an example of using a statutory/law for accountability and to bring sunshine to an issue that continues to be of interest to many people.

I will keep you posted.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Will Legislature keep HMO data secret, even while industry is under federal investigation?

This session, the Minnesota Legislature has been debating bills brought forward by the Minnesota Newspaper Association to fix the Supreme Court's / Timberjay decision.  The bills (SF 1770/HF 2167) would make sure that all private companies that contract to perform outsourced government work would be subject to Minnesota's open records/privacy law, the Data Practices Act.

No one objected to the bill until the Minnesota Council of Health Plans came forward, and said the world would end unless they were exempted from the Data Practices Act.  But the proposal has become entangled with a behind the scenes/closed door discussion in secrecy from the offices of the Minnesota Department of Human Services to the leadership of the Legislature.  Last week the Minnesota Senate voted unanimously to give the the Health plans what they demanded.

Here is a question for our lawmakers:  Why would you provide total exemption from our open records law to an industry that is currently under investigation for the misuse of billions of taxpayers dollars?

That's essentially what happened on Friday, when the Senate added an amendment to SF 1770 that gave a blanket exemption to the entire HMO industry, for one year.  HMOs contract with the State to provide public program health care services.  For at least a year or more, the federal government has been investigating these programs, and the role the HMOs play in handing them, due to many charges of mismanagement.  That is reason enough make sure that the public can really see what is going on inside the HMOs, and how they spend taxpayer funds.

I know that the Newspaper Association wanted the bill to correct the Timberjay case. But at what price? What makes these HMOs so special?  If the point of HF 2167/SF 1770 is to make sure that there is public oversight of outsourced spending, why exempt an industry that gets a huge share (hundreds of millions) of that spending?

Some will say that it's only a one year exemption and that there is going to be a study. Our use of HMOs for the management of public programs was only supposed to be a short "demonstration project" and there was going to be a study. The demonstration project has been going on for more nearly 25 years and a 1993 study was shelved after opposition from the HMOs (as the Star Tribune reported at the time on March 13, 1994/Human Services HMO study-shelved).  Once it's written into law, will the blanket HMO exemption also be rolled forward forever?

Now that the HMOs have succeeded in insulating themselves from public review in the Senate, it appears the House will follow suit on Monday with  amendments offered to placate their demands.  It seems strange that after an April 25th hearing of Joint House Committees{ HHS-Finance/Policy/Civil) that Minnesota House members felt there was no justification for a blanket exemption and now it seems they changed their minds.  What happened?   Will House members stand up to demand real transparency and accountability or will they sell out?

Related Post:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Trials and tribulations at the Legislature

I have been at the Minnesota Legislature for a long time influencing public policy.  I have been guided by my viewpoint what I think is important for civil liberties, privacy, and open government.  But life as a concerned citizen has not always been a bed of roses.  My satisfaction of getting laws and initiatives passed with which I have had a hand in has been quite satisfying.  Many of my actions for or against legislation will never affect me, but I know it will with others.  But the trial and tribulation one goes through is another story.

This year I have been called "sinister", questioned several times why I have an interest in pieces of legislation because I should not have an interest in, according to others; shouted in an angry way by the head of association because of a tweet I did promoting my take on a bill.  Even by a new director of an association a view I took on LPR legislation via twitter.  He did not like my tweet stated it was untrue.  I felt like saying in reply your background in public relations/media and what the hell do you know about license plate readers and the impact of them on people's rights and liberties.  Basically I wanted to say I know helluva lot more about it then you do.  But I was polite and just chalked it up as.........

But this is not new, as someone who has gained knowledge about the "dance of the legislators", gained awareness and mastery of privacy and open government from others, experience, and reading, I have knowledge and information to share with legislators.

And sometimes entrenched special interests, lobbyists, and even legislators get mad, teed of, and even damn in your face about it because I am an unpaid person who may sometimes upset their applecart to improve, modify or impinge, or eat their apples(legislation/proposal).

When I first started hanging around the legislature in the late seventies I was a person who took an interest in a bill or two, known a bit to testify once in a while, but mostly hung out, observing.  Gained insight to the dance of the legislators, by working with such people as Senators Randy Peterson and Gene Merriam. Who helped develop my astuteness of privacy was coming in contact with Don Gemberling in 1979 when I had a question about wanting to get access to my private data held by a government agency.

So I was on my way learning, observing, remembering, going to the law libraries to research legislation and court cases and by the early 80's had some knowledge. By the mid 80's I was being asked why are you doing this and who are you by others who hung around the Capitol because more than likely I was beginning to make a difference.

As time went on the trials and tribulations started, many I remember well.  My all time classic is by a top law official who snidely in his own humorous way stated basically we should have set you up in a bad situation and share it with legislators.  In other words, I was a stumbling block is his attempts to get legislation passed the way the agency wanted.  I shared with Senators what I thought the bill did and they had a special hearing on it.  The bill was passed, but a sunset was put on it for a year.  Policymakers and I came back the next session with measures to protect our privacy with accountability.

Another one is is the legislator who confronted me about pulling the "race card".  I was startled.  He had legislation that could have had in my judgement a disparate impact on community of colors.  I called the Council on Black Minnesotans about the bill who organized people and organizations to oppose aspects of it.  As I have stated before in previous posts many people sometimes do not know whats go on in the People's House.  I try to let them know.

I was asked by a legislator why I "shitcan" his bills. I said they were bad bills.  One I laughed at when an elected official did in public was when I came to a hearing and he knew I was going to testify against his bill, he would say......"Your mother is calling you".  Indirectly, saying leave my bill alone and leave the hearing room.

A recent one is the legislator who said I am not interested to listen what you have to say because you represent no one.  "You represent no group or organization, you are not my constituent" I said fine.  I think he was teed at me for the issues I raised about his bill which eventually did not become law the previous year.

I have learned the dance of the legislators well.  Bills that I see that are not good or good for privacy and open government sometimes I go to leadership, no matter what party, and share with them benefits, implications, traps, and pitfalls of a bill.  And going to the Chairs of Committees explaining in detail why a bill good is bad or good.  It is all part of the inside process I have learned.

But in the last analysis, this a place of human behavior and relationships.  I have apologized to a legislator or two over the years.  But the difference between the great many people who influence policy here at the Capitol and myself is that they are paid and are here full time and have have vast resources.  When they get the difficulty and anxiety about the legislative process they see it and feel it in a different way then I do.

I come with a tenacity, persistence, good information, and a passion for what I believe in, but it can be and is tiring.  Thanks to the great majority of legislators who are willing to listen to the public and me over the years.

By the way the person who called me "sinister" shook my hand yesterday maybe I am not so bad after all.