Sunday, October 13, 2013

What's behind the secrecy wall of Hennepin Co Sheriff and BCA?

When was the last time that you ever heard of a government agency spending almost $400,000 (see note below) dollars for equipment and upkeep of it and then telling the public, "It's none of your business."

Well, it has happened to me twice in two weeks. I believe the cost of BCA's tool and upkeep is nearly the same. The subject was my data practice requests of a high tech tool called the Kingfish or a similar cellular exploitation device that both Hennepin County Sheriff' and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) own.  The responses to my data requests are as follows:

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Department of Public Safety
Hennepin County Sheriff

How can this be?  It is a seven letter word:

 (1) the condition of being hidden or concealed
 (2) the habit or practice of keeping secrets or maintaining privacy or concealment 
 Source: Merriam-Webster

Both the Department of Public Safety and the Hennepin County Sheriff's have taken positions that they want to conceal, hide, or keep secret the use of this device.

As someone who helped legislators pass major changes with Minnesota law dealing with electronic communications 25 years ago, 626A (Privacy Communications Act) I am familiar about the importance of our privacy and liberties and how Minnesota law enforcement fought against those changes.  But what has happened since then is that technology has changed and law enforcement has better tools and toys which invade our privacy and compromise our liberty, and they do not want to let the public know about it.

Some of the few questions I am trying to get answered are as follows:

In what situations are the cellular exploitation devices used?

Are the BCA/Hennepin Co Sheriff invading people's privacy and liberty at a low legal threshold or no threshold rather than get a search warrant?

Who oversees and approves the use of the equipment?  Where is the accountability?

How many innocent people have been within sights of the Kingfish or similar device,  the data collected and those subjects of the surveillance who may not even know about it,?  How many arrests have happened with the use of this device?

Kip Carver, an official in the Hennepin County Sheriff's office stated to the county's commissioners three years ago that the cellular exploitation device may be used hundreds of times a year.

How frequently are the cellular exploitation devices used and the number of subjects?

Depending if the cops are using a low threshold or none at all in using this device are they doing so to avoid an appearance before a judge where a search warrant (top standard to protect our privacy & liberty) needs to be issued and where questions can be asked?

What is the role of the prosecutors in situations when this equipment is used?

In my data request I asked for the legal thresholds that the agencies must go by in order to use the Kingfish?  What is so secret about that?
At this time, the attitude that both agencies have taken with my data requests give the Minnesota Legislature and most important the public no idea how this tool has been used, is being used,  how an individual or individuals get chosen to be pursued, and who is accountable.

As some people may currently know I have been working to possibly update our state laws so that the rule of law applies to whats happening now in 2013 not in 1988-1989 when 626A had its last major update.

Even though the Department of Public Safety and the Hennepin County Sheriff do not want to tell me or the public their protocols, policies, procedures of accountability, legal thresholds, and other appropriate public data I will still push on and I hope others will.  I am not interested to live in a state where law enforcement rules and not the people.

NOTE:  Earlier version of this post incorrectly stated "a million".  The Homeland Security Grant ($426, 150) approved by Hennepin County Board in March of 2010 for the purchase of a cell exploitation device was incorrectly added to the amount stated in contract between Harris Corporation and Hennepin County Sheriff which implemented the purchase.  That cost was $389,050. 

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