Monday, July 27, 2015

Data request frustrations leads to letter to U of Minn Regents

“A government by secrecy benefits no one. It injures the people it seeks to serve; it damages its own integrity and operation. It breeds distrust, dampens the fervor of its citizens and mocks their loyalty.”
Russell Long

I spoke with a student from the University of Minnesota recently about his frustrations with the U not responding to his data requests and communication.  Granted, government can be slow, but not this slow. 

The University of Minnesota has a long history in my view in frustrating the media and the public to access to public data.  For many years, the University of Minnesota and the Regents argued they were not part of the the Minnesota Open Meeting Law and Minnesota Government Data Practices Act until the Minnesota Supreme Court finally decided the issue.

What the student decided to do was to send a letter to the Board of Regents, University of Minnesota.

Here it is:

"July 23, 2015

University of Minnesota Board of  Regents
600 McNamara Alumni    Center
200 Oak Street  S.E.
Minneapolis, Minnesota    55455

Dear Members of the Board of Regents:

This letter is intended to inform you of recurring problems with the Office of Records and Information Management at the University of  Minnesota, and to inform you of my belief that the University is currently in violation of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA).

I have requested and not yet received public records under the Data Practices Act (Minn. Statutes, Chapter 13) from the University of Minnesota since November 2014. Susan McKinney is the Director of Records and Information Management under the Office of the General Counsel.  As she is the designated MGDPA Responsible Authority, I directed my requests and related communications to Ms. McKinney.  Some of my data requests and follow up communications have also been copied to Deputy General Counsel Tracy Smith, who has been aware of my frustrations for months, but    hasn’t taken action to prompt compliance with the law.   

There are currently twelve outstanding data requests.  Of these, one is from November 10, 2014, three are from December 14, 2014, and eight are from May 30, 2015.  Multiple written reminders and telephone messages to Ms. McKinney have been ignored.   

On May 31, 2015, I wrote four emails, one for each outstanding data request, that discussed and chronicled the full history of my communications regarding each data request. These were sent to both Susan McKinney and Tracy Smith.  After numerous unanswered follow-up phone calls, I finally got an email from Ms. McKinney on June 3, 2015.  It stated only that my email communications of May 30 and May 31 had been received and that "I will respond to your messages as soon as possible." I have received no further communication regarding any of these outstanding data requests.

It has been over seven weeks since Susan McKinney emailed to state that she would respond "as    soon as possible" to my email communications in regards to my outstanding data requests.  My November 10, 2014 data request is now eight months old and my December 14, 2014 data requests are now over seven months old.  My other requests are seven weeks old.

As an undergraduate student pursuing my education here at the University of Minnesota, it has become exceedingly difficult for me to obtain public data needed to conduct research, review, and analysis for projects that are part of courses I am taking at the University—courses I pay for and am graded on. I am proud of my ability to self-direct challenging educational experiences by integrating extracurricular efforts, personal interests and extensive volunteer activities into my  formal undergraduate education.  However, in some cases I have had to forego projects because of a lack of timely response to my data requests by the MGDPA Responsible Authority for the    University, and her supervisor, the Deputy General Counsel.

I write to you today because the lack of timely response to my data requests is hindering my   education and is illegal.  As the University’s designated Responsible Authority for data requests, Ms. McKinney’s failure to respond to my data requests is in violation of both University policy and state law (Minn. Statutes, Chapter 13).  You are now on notice of these facts.

My goal with this communication is to seek your assistance in resolving this matter expeditiously so   that I receive the data I have requested and the University corrects its noncompliance with the MGDPA.  However, if I continue to face resistance to fulfilling my data requests, I will not hesitate to use all legal means to obtain access to the public data I have requested.

Please respond to this letter within ten business days.   

Sincerely,

Eric Bauer"

Monday, July 20, 2015

Free Data Practices workshop in Burnsville

How is your government spending tax money?

How much information does it collect on you?

What are your rights as a citizen to access government data?

On  July 23, 2015, Saint Paul-based non-profit Public Record Media (PRM) will host a Freedom of Information (FOI) workshop at the Burnhaven Library in Burnsville, Minnesota. The event will run from 6:30pm-8:00pm.

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 members of the PRM board. The event is free to the public. Participants are encouraged to bring ideas for their own public record requests.

PRM’s workshop is one in a series of events that the organization is hosting throughout the state under a grant from the Washington DC-based Sunlight Foundation. Past events have been hosted in Rochester, St. Cloud, and Minneapolis.

Public Record Media is a Minnesota-based non-profit organization that conducts public record-centered publication, legal work, and education.
For further information:

651-556-1381

www.publicrecordmedia.org

The Burnhaven Library is located at 1101 W. County Road 42 in Burnsville, MN.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Open meeting law, one fight among many over the years

There are many laws to keep government accountable and scrutinized in Minnesota, the two primary ones: Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and Open Meeting Law.  I have been just as "active" with the Open Meeting Law as with Data Practices over the decades

Over the past week or so I have been going through my old memos that I have sent to policymakers.  I ran across one that dealt with the Open Meeting Law.  It was from 1988 and it dealt with issue that St Paul City Council was going to close a meeting from the public.  I felt it was a violation of the Open Meeting Law.

The topic was a proposal to regulate adult entertainment.  Throughout the 80's, Councilman Bill Wilson was in the forefront of that issue, the old Faust Theatre was in his neighborhood.  He wanted the Council to discuss what the legal ramifications might be if his ordinance passed in a closed setting.  I opposed the action of what the City Council was going to do so I sent this memo, June 9, 1988.

"President James Scheibel
Vice-President William Wilson
St Paul City Council

On Tuesday, June 7th, 1988, the City Council has decided to hold a "closed meeting" on Tuesday, June 14th in the City Attorney's office....  Mr Byrnes (Asst City Attorney) stated that the reason why is to discuss litigation strategy and what ordinance and form Mr. Wilson's ordinance (88-501) should take in order to avoid litigation from several private interests.

I disagree that the City Council can close its meeting based upon Mr. Byrnes rationale to discuss what form legislation should be in order to avoid litigation.

The Minnesota Supreme Court noted in 1976, Mpls Star/Tribune vs. HRA, to close meetings based on attorney/client privilege is to be done cautiously and seldom in situations other than in relation to threatened or pending litigation.  Mr. Byrnes when asked the question by Mr. Long (City Councilman) as to closing a meeting and if it conflicts with the Open Meeting Law, he stated no.  Mr. Byrnes also stated that even though there is no pending litigation by the private parties it is "reasonable to anticipate litigation" so therefore this is the rationale to close a city council meeting.......

I believe closing the city council meeting on June 14th, 1988 at 830AM, is an abuse of the attorney/client privilege based on rationale that I have previously outlined, and secondly, it is abuse against the democratic and open process which our government and country stands for.

Since there is no pending litigation, and there is no detailed factual basis I think to ascertain a threat to a lawsuit, and since a meeting of a public body cannot be closed (my opinion) based on rationale to discuss what "form" an ordinance should take in order to avoid litigation, I urge you to provide the leadership to question if there should be a closed meeting.......and to keep the Council from violating the Open Meeting Law."

Issues like I described above still continue today, reasons why "we" must be vigilant to hold our elected officials accountable.  Northwest Publications (Pioneer Press) filed for a motion in District Court the day before the meeting to keep the city council meeting open.  The case went before the Court of Appeals.. They affirmed the meeting had to be open to the public.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Out of the Past" ideas for change at Legislature

In the St Paul Pioneer Press today there was an article by Bill Salisbury, entitled "Remember the legislative chaos?  Minnesota lawmakers trying to find a better way" Parts of the article came up with various suggestions by legislators to prevent the "chaos".

The story reminded when I was interviewed by Shawn Towle in the late nineties (1996-98?), for his Checks and Balances column.  He interviewed a number of people who influenced the legislative process for a story on lobbyists, paid or unpaid.

At that time, I had been at the legislature for a long time, of course longer now in 2015.  He asked me what changes I would like to see at the Minnesota Legislature.  I said the following:

"I'd like to limit the amount of legislation that gets passed because the volume of legislation dilutes the oversight of laws and creates inequities.  For that reason, I'd like to see a rule by which legislator's could only introduce 15 bills a session so they'd have to choose which are the most important to them.

I would also like to see a process by which individual citizens could introduce legislation directly, rather than going through their Representative or Senator.  I believe some states have this type of process currently in place.



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Free workshop on public record laws (Maplewood)

How is your government spending tax money? 

How much information does it collect on you? 

What are your rights as a citizen to access government data?

On July 16, 2015, Saint Paul-based non-profit Public Record Media (PRM) will host a Freedom of Information (FOI) workshop at the Maplewood Library in Maplewood, Minnesota. The event will run from 6:30pm-8:00pm.

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 members of the PRM board. The event is free to the public. Participants are encouraged to bring ideas for their own public record requests.

PRM’s workshop is one in a series of events that the organization is hosting throughout the state under a grant from the Washington DC-based Sunlight Foundation. Past events have been hosted in Rochester, St. Cloud, and Minneapolis. 

Public Record Media is a Minnesota-based non-profit organization that conducts public record-centered publication, legal work, and education.

To RSVP or for further information:

651-556-1381

www.publicrecordmedia.org

The Maplewood Library is located at 3025 Southlawn Drive in

Maplewood, Minnesota.

Public Record Media (PRM)

 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Free workshop using FOIA with law enforcement agencies

In many activities which the government uses its power, it's when it investigates and enforces violation of law. There is a need for transparency and accountability when this happens for a number of reasons.  The law can be a state statute, city or county ordinances, or rules or regulations being implemented by an agency.

Abuse of power, selective enforcement, discriminatory practices, and how effective enforcement  activities are among many points is important for the public to know about.  To have access to crucial information about how government operates, establishes priorities, and makes decisions in enforcement activities is essential for oversight.

The Minnesota Legislature deemed it important that transparency promotes scrutiny and gives the residents of the state, information about what their government is doing, a major rationale why there is a Minnesota Government Data Practices  Act.

There are enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Minnesota Department of Commerce,  and in local venues in housing and law enforcement.  Information can be sought from any of the agencies I described, for example, a data request I madewith the Hennepin County Sheriffs Office and Bureau of Criminal Apprehension about cell phone (spy) surveillance devices brought to the attention to policymakers and public the use of these devices.  This brought to the 2014 Minnesota Legislature meaningful debate over government surveillance powers, which continued through this years session on license plate readers.  When government uses such powers for enforcement, the public must be able to have answer basic questions about the government’s current use of such powers.

You can learn how to use the basics of data practices by attending a free and public workshop, details below.

"PRM to host public records workshop in Minneapolis, MN

May 18, 2015

St. Paul, Minnesota – On June 11, 2015, Saint Paul-based non-profit Public
Record Media (PRM) will host a Freedom of Information (FOI) workshop at
the North Regional Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The event will be
held in the library’s North Regional Meeting Room, and will run from
6:30pm-8:00pm.  The North Regional Library is located at 1315 Lowry Ave.
N. in Minneapolis.

The workshop will explore how members of the public can use FOI laws (both
Minnesota data Practices Act and federal) to obtain government records of interest to them. A particular focus of the workshop will be on government entities that have an enforcement function – including police, housing, and related agencies. The presentation will feature comments by Rich Neumeister, a long-timerecord requester and open government advocate. An introduction will be given by members of the PRM board.

The event is free to the public. Participants are encouraged to bring
ideas for their own public record requests.  RSVPs are encouraged by
calling 651-556-1381.

PRM’s workshop is one in a series of events that the organization is
hosting throughout the state under a grant from the Washington DC-based
Sunlight Foundation. Past events have been hosted in Rochester and St.
Cloud.

Public Record Media is a Minnesota-based non-profit organization that
conducts public record-centered publication, legal work, and education."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Letter to Minn House on license plate readers

When I first wrote about license plate readers (LPRs) nearly 4 and a half years ago, they were being sold by Minnesota law enforcement as a way to get stolen cars back to their rightful owners.  But I knew there was more to it.  I kept writing about LPRs over the next 2 of years.  Eventually, a reporter from the Star Tribune saw one of my tweets/blog post on it, thought it was interesting, and then did two major stories on the use of license plate readers.  The stories brought attention to the mass public and the eyes of the Minnesota Legislature, this surveillance tool that comprises our privacy and liberty rights.

Since 2013, the Legislature has engaged and debated the issues of license plate readers.  Why the dialogue has continued since then, particularly with the Minnesota House, three main points:

(1) License plate readers, their systems and use set up a tool of mass surveillance of the public which is constantly changing with technology.

(2) There is a collection by government of millions of bits of personal data on innocent and law-abiding Minnesotans.

(3) Keeping LPR data on innocent and law-abiding people, presumes that they are under investigation, that everyone is guilty, and turns the presumption of innocence on its head.

The Minnesota House will be debating SF 86 also known as HF 222, on Thursday.  The bill has proposed a 30 day retention of license plate reader data on innocent residents of Minnesota.  I oppose that, I would like to see zero retention.

This viewpoint is not taken lightly by me.   As many of you may know over the decades in working with members of the House on both sides of the aisle, I look at an issue and I give you my viewpoint based on doing research, data requests, talking with people, among other activities in helping you achieve good law and policy.

It is important to note that the Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy which is made up of legislator's from both parties, recommended zero-retention on non-hit data just before this current session.  The Minnesota House last year supported  and passed zero retention in its bill in 2014.

The kind of data that is collected when an LPR scans your vehicle basically is an image of the license plate, GPS location, the vehicle and frequently the area around the vehicle including driver, passengers, and whoever may be in the view.  This is an example:

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


License-plate reader image

Another example:



License plate readers are becoming a part of integrated networks with private companies and with  government.  Many states share their LPR data on innocent people with the Federal government as recently outlined in Wall Street Journal stories and freedom of information requests done by the American Civil Liberty Union.  There are examples with the state of Maryland and California, among others, of centralizing LPR data of innocent people.

Technology is changing the sophistication of LPRs with better camera images, wider breadth of the camera, interaction with facial recognition mixed w other databases, and speed and direction also being part of the LPR data collected among others are in the pipeline or being deployed.

Law enforcement admits license plate readers track movements of individuals over time as illustrated by the data about Mayor R.T Rybak's travels in Minneapolis.

There is no doubt that license plate reader data (location data) can be used to figure out what ones religious or political relationships are, among many, depending where your vehicle is parked.  LPR data draws an individuals diagram of movement and associations.

This has even sparked discussion of how license plate readers and the data kept and retained on innocent people bring rise to First Amendment issues.

A 2011 International Association of Chiefs of Police Privacy Impact Assessment on use of License Plate Readers confirms states:

"Recording driving habits could implicate First Amendment concerns.  Specifically, LPR systems have the ability to record vehicle's attendance at locations or events that, although lawful and public, may be considered private.  For example, mobile LPR units could read and collect the license plate numbers ( and pictures of cars as I gave example of in a previous paragraph) parked at addiction counseling meetings, doctors' offices, health clinics or even staging areas for political protests."

It is very clear from the data requests I have done with various law enforcement agencies such as Minneapolis who use license plate readers, in 2011, 3,750,877 license plate scans, but only 0.68 percent (25,543) were hits. and from published reports, such as based on a data request, KSTP did to the Mall of America over a 90 day period, there were 2,275,357 reads or scans, only 12,216 were hits.  About a half a percent of one percent.  This is mass collection of people's whereabouts.

On average, less than one percent of plates paired up with a hotlist/watchlist, and even fewer lead to an arrest, according to the data I have received in data requests.  So the question is why should we be keeping data on innocent and law-abiding people for any length of time 30 days, 60 days, three months.

I oppose collection of license plate reader data on innocent people, such as allowed in the House bill as it now stands, based on reasons I have shared with you.

Rep. Tony Cornish, who is Chief Author of the bill, said in the Star Tribune: 

"Cornish, a retired police chief, would ideally like to see the data dumped immediately if the vehicle doesn't register as wanted by law enforcement -- known as a "hit." He worries about the potential that the databases could be abused, citing past problems with state vehicle records. "Even though technology is great and it helps catch the bad guys, I don't want the good guys being kept in a database," Cornish said."