Sunday, September 27, 2015

Not use cost as reason for secrecy with body cams

In the underbelly of discussion with body cameras in Minnesota is the "it costs too much money" argument.  The bemoaning and griping of many law enforcement and local government officials can be heard before the Legislature, city councils, and other venues.  Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, has said to the Star Tribune protecting "departments from costly and time-consuming editing" from public data requests, is one reason why they support in the Legislature, HF430/SF498.  The bill makes basically all videos collected by body cameras private or not public.  In the same article, Mr. Skoogman says the bill "keeps police accountable....." I am scratching my head on that one.  How can a police department be accountable and transparent with its behavior to the public if most of the body camera video is not public to the community?

Words about cost is one of the major rationale to keep the videos secret.  In a recent application to the Commissioner of Administration to make most body camera videos secret, less accessible to the public, signed by 24 cities, uses an excuse that access to the general public will bring "exorbitant cost involved with responding to requests...."  A group of law enforcement officials and cities are trying for the second time to go around the Legislature to make data collected form the body cameras not public.

I have been told by a law enforcement official,  a major motivation to keep body camera video, not public, is the cost factor, particularly with smaller cities other than Minneapolis and St Paul.  The person described the financial pressure to review and redact the videos may cause.  Some local political subdivisions will not buy body camera systems unless there is less body camera videos available to the public, the authority commented.  Rationale for secrecy!

Under current law, a fair amount of body camera video is not available to the public.  The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act gives law enforcement ample leeway to not disclose recordings to protect ongoing investigations and individuals privacy. But many others want to go way beyond that pushing to keep videos from the public to a point gouging increased accountability and transparency.

There is a compelling need for civic accountability with law enforcement agencies.  Arguments to make body camera video not accessible to the populous based on cost is ill-advised and uncalled for.  It undermines the body camera idea to advance faith and confidence between the public and law enforcement.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

BCA does not want you to know how much they spend on spy devices


It is no secret that Minnesota law enforcement generally wants to keep hidden from the people new technology that does surveillance and monitoring of people.  Just review the past several years of this blog on matters such as Stingray, Kingfish, and to some extent license plate readers, among other topics I have written about.

 It was through data request's that I found out that at least the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), even though the data was limited, owned or operated cellular exploitative devices, such as Kingfish and Stingray.  It took the Legislature with questions that more information was given.

 But even today the public and Legislature does not know the amount taxpayers has spent or will spend on the Stingray and similar devices since 2014. (See document above, page 7,  part of BCA/Harris Corp contract)  The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has told me and the Star Tribune that having knowledge of public dollars spent would be too much info for the bad guys to know.  They have even refused to give the general amount spent.  As Drew Evans, ‎Assistant Superintendent of BCA, stated to the Star Tribune in written form:

"This would not only endanger the lives and physical safety of law enforcement officers and other individuals, but also adversely impact criminal investigations,” Evans wrote. “Disclosure of this information could result in the BCA’s inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because, through public disclosures, this technology has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations.”

So here we have an agency that will neither tell elected officials or the public the general amount spent on devices that can intercept conversations and text messages of people with auxiliary equipment and upgrades such as the "Fishhawk: or "Porpoise", and that collects data on innocent people who may be in the area of the target.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to spurn and mock the public's and Legislature's right to know how much it spends on technology that has an acute and extreme involvement with our privacy and civil liberties only undermines the Bureau's credibility.

As I know by the Star Tribune's and my past experience in trying to get the Harris Corporation contract and FBI disclosure agreement, the credibility of BCA with me had never been at it's lowest.

Confidently, the public and legislators will begin to realize the BCA's efforts to hide the amount of public $$$ is not because of criminals and terrorists.  The Bureau does not want you to know because they do not want the accountability and inquiry, they so deeply and crucially need on matters of public dollars spent on surveillance technologies that compromise our autonomy, privacy, and civil liberties.

NOTE: This is the full agreement of the contract between the Harris Corporation and the BCA.  Also included is the FBI non-disclosure agreement.  Courtesy of the Star Tribune.