This summer I am doing a fair amount of research on issues that I care about. A tool I use is the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. This is a state law of many purposes, one which is guaranteeing a right of the public to gain access, inspect, and copy public data.
Two of several research endeavors I have set sail on are as follows:
How are public monies awarded to private contractors being specifically spent?
How are law enforcement agencies complying with current laws in regards to gathering data on people?
I am inquiring among local and state agencies. The response to my requests can be just as different as the agencies are. Basically, the request is accepted with the appropriate people, but that's when the difference begins.
This week I had a request end up in the City Attorney's office which I believe may be a stall tactic. Nothing new, sometimes simple requests that I know are public and very easy to comply with are diverted for political reasons or simply they do not want the public to know. It can also be the agency has a policy that says every data practices request must be reviewed by a lawyer.
Today I was told by another agency I have to write out a specific request with my name for the material I want to view next week. I said there was no need for that because my request is very simple, to see a specific contract between the government entity and the private party and their "request for proposal". There can be no misunderstanding what I want to review. I also stated the law calls for not having to identify myself for requests on public data.
I have had experiences when government personnel has taken it upon themselves to inform subjects(companies and individuals)of my data practices requests and that I am reviewing their public files. It can put you in a awkward situation.
There will be barriers and stall tactics by some government agencies, but the majority not so. Having some knowledge of data practices helps because even some of the people who you give your request to sometimes do not even know the basics of the law.
I encourage people to become more familiar with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. It is a useful and powerful tool to find out what government is doing, but also to make change in government.
As was stated in an article in City Pages, many years ago, "Information is power. Information is key. Information is access." It's Neumeister's anthem.
For more information on the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act you can go to either of these web sites.
http://www.ipad.state.mn.us/ IPAD | Information Policy Analysis Division State of Minnesota
http://www.mncogi.org/ Minnesota Coalition on Government Information: MNCOGI