Tuesday, March 17, 2015

When suspects wear uniforms, what will Minn legislature do?

With the deadlines of the Minnesota Legislature coming fast, a specific bill that would require outside agencies to investigate fatal officer-involved deaths may be on life support.  It's known as the "Police and Community Confidence Act; a bill with bipartisan sponsorship that will promote the cooperation and trust between officers and the citizens they protect." as Senator Latz described the bill on his Facebook page.  The bill is SF466 by Senator Ron Latz.  The companion in the House is HF453 authored by Representative Cornish.

At this point Tony Cornish who is the Chair of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance is in a position to decide whether or not he wants to hear is own bill.  It appears based on this week's schedule for hearings so far and discussion around the Capitol, the bill will die.

With the shooting death of a 19 year old in Madison, Wisconsin by a Madison Police officer last week and it being reported in the Twin Cities news market it brings to our attention the Wisconsin law which calls for an independent investigation, which the Minnesota proposal is based on.

The Cornish/Latz bill would oblige an outside agency to investigate officer involved deaths other than the law enforcement entity in which the officer or officers are employed with. For example, an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) kills an individual in an officer-related shooting, the MPD would not due the investigation, possibly St Paul Police or even maybe the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Several weeks ago there was a hearing on SF466 on February 19, 2015.  Testimony opposing the bill was done by Minneapolis Police Union head John Delmonico, and Brian Rice, who represents the Minneapolis Police Federation.  Mr. Delmonico right out of the box in public testimony stated he is there to "talk against the bill."  It is very clear that the Minneapolis Police Federation opposes it.

On the other hand I am struck by the Minneapolis Police Federation position.  In public data I obtained, Mr. Delmonico in discussion about the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension doing independent investigations in Minneapolis situations, a couple of years ago, stated in an email "in general, do not object to it."

Mr. Delmonico's email communication to Chief Harteau on September 16, 2013 was on a draft procedure titled "Use of the BCA to Investigate MPD Related Incidents" he stated:

"Thank you for providing me with a copy of "Use of the BCA to Investigate MPD Related Incidents" memorandum. I have had an opportunity to review it and in general, do not object to it."

It appears on one hand the main opposition against the independent investigations bill, Minneapolis Police Federation, publicly opposes independent investigations, but privately may have a different position from two years ago.  Organizations do change their minds.

The bill is important to have a public hearing in the House and to be continued through the legislative process.

The bill is long overdue.  In St Paul alone there have been 11 people killed by police use of deadly force since 2009 per the Star Tribune.  To have an independent presence with an independent law enforcement agency investigating these kind of incidents as outlined in SF466/HF453 there comes integrity and believability to the process and that is what is needed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Minn Legislature scrutinizing surveillance about you

The Legislature within several of its committees and soon on the floor are discussing proposals that will allow law enforcement to gather in mass hundreds of thousands, if not millions of license plate scans/reads on innocent people using automated license plate readers. (ALPR)  What these scans collect on people as they drive around the streets are license plate number, time, data, and GPS location, but also photos like these:

License-plate reader images. Courtesy of Mike Katz-Lacabe

License-plate reader image   

The collected data are matched against a database that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety operates.  The database is known  a "hotlist" or "watch list."  It is formally known as the Minnesota License Plate Data File. Local law enforcement agencies may have their own watchlists, too.

In simple terms, data collected from a license plate reader is compared to a list of warrants, stolen cars, and a hodgepodge of other data bits in a database.  A hit is produced, which then alerts law enforcement that there could be a wanted person in the vehicle.

"What's wrong with that?" law enforcement has asked me.

Nothing is wrong with hit data, and the ability to track down the bad guys.  What's wrong is the wat that law enforcement has decided to use the technology for other purposes - without involving the public and policy makers in discussing the implications of the technology.

Most of what license plate readers capture is data on innocent people.  We haven't been told about how that data is shared with others - including law enforcement agencies or private companies. Or why a database full of the whereabouts of innocents Minnesotans is necessary to keep for long periods of time. Or more importantly, how the collection of this type of data on innocent and law abiding people presumes everyone is guilty, and turns the presumption of innocence on its head.

The Legislature is currently sorting out the various interests involve in the use of license plate readers.  There are two bills that have introduced, and they are at the center of the debate.

The two bills are HF155/SF31 and HF222/SF86. They have major differences in their approaches to LPR:

HF155/SF31 is the position that the Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy recommended.  The bill permits license plate data that matches the hotlist/watchlist to be retained if it identifies the vehicle or plate as stolen, if there is a warrant for arrest of the owner, if the owner has a suspended/revoked license, or if the data is part of an active criminal investigation.  There is no data kept on innocent and law-biding people.

That differs with HF222/SF86, which is the bill being pushed by law enforcement interests.  There is a requirement in that bill that data such as location, license plate number, time, data, and GPS coordinates, and photos of all scanned vehicles be kept for 90 days.  In other words, law enforcement is able to keep mass surveillance data on innocent Minnesotans.

By far, "non-hit" data is the biggest part of the data gathered by ALPR readers.  In 2011,  Minneapolis Police collected 3,750,877 license plate scans, but only 0.68 percent (25,543) were hits.  Just recently, based on a data request, KSTP was provided with the following.  One sees that the percentage is a half a percent of one percent that there are hits:

In both cases, most of the plates belong to innocent drivers.  I've filed ALPR data requests since 2011 with law enforcement agencies such as Duluth and Maplewood.  On average, less than one percent of plates paired up with a hotlist/watchlist, and even fewer led to an arrest, according to the data I received.

As it heads towards it's May adjournment, the legislature will have many discussions on the ALPR issue.  As evidenced last week in a Senate Committee. (Law enforcement-backed license plate reader bill narrowly survives)  Many questions still need to be answered.  Some of them are: should there be a centralized repository and collection of ALPR data with location and photos of innocent Minnesotans?   How deep and expansive should the law enforcement purpose be with the use of ALPRs?  And how can First Amendment activities be protected from law enforcement monitoring?

If the Legislature decides to keep the kind of data as outlined at the beginning of this post, it will be setting the stage for collecting mass surveillance data on innocent Minnesotans for all other law enforcement technologies that are on the horizon, including facial recognition software.

Whatever the product of the Legislature will be, it must be one which achieves common aims of public safety, but also does not keep huge troves of data on innocent people to be used in integrated networks, shared with the Federal government, runs against our tradition of specific, targeted investigations, presumption of innocence, and our privacy and liberty traditions.

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 theuptake.org. Contact MNCOGI with questions at mncogi@gmail.com, 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:    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_OkFLQ9BEd0NE5zS1hrZUhIby1EaUV1Q0tDOGNWNDFXdzRj/view?usp=sharing

The Star Tribune's request for the Commissioner of Administration to issue an opinion to make BCA release requested documents:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_OkFLQ9BEd0ZXdYblBsUTBKMlpqX2NXRHQybWtuLU9EbTI0/view?usp=sharing

The BCA documents with the Harris Corporation and the FBI: