Thursday, September 26, 2013

Meet Minnesota's Kingfish......that track and mine information

Three weeks ago ago I sent the Bureau of Apprehension and the Hennepin County Sheriffs office a data practices request on the Kingfish.  My request was as follows to the Hennepin County Sheriff's office:

"Pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act I wish to inspect and review all government data about the Cellular Exploitation System (Kingfish) including, but not limited to, such items as protocols, procedures, legal thresholds, County Attorney opinions, evaluations, correspondence, and results of use".

I am still waiting for the results of those requests.  It is important to know if this tool of law enforcement is used with search warrants, accountability, and transparency.  Read this description of the Kingfish which I just found on the ars technica (website).  A post entitled...."Meet the machines that steal your phone's data" by Ryan Gallagher.


The Kingfish is a surveillance transceiver that allows authorities to track and mine information from mobile phones over a targeted area. The device does not appear to enable interception of communications; instead, it can covertly gather unique identity codes and show connections between phones and numbers being dialed. It is smaller than the Stingray, black and gray in color, and can be controlled wirelessly by a conventional notebook PC using Bluetooth. You can even conceal it in a discreet-looking briefcase, according to marketing brochures. First used: Trademark records show that a registration for the Kingfish was filed in August 2001. Its “first use anywhere” is listed in records as December 2003.Cost: $25,349.
Agencies: Government agencies have spent about $13 million on Kingfish technology since 2006, sometimes as part of what is described in procurement documents as a “vehicular package” deal that includes a Stingray. The US Marshals Service; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; Army; Air Force; state cops in Florida; county cops in Maricopa, Arizona; and Special Operations Command have all purchased a Kingfish in recent years.  (Photo & text from ars technica)

I did a previous post on the Kingfish.  Here is the link:

Banned material in the St Paul Libraries?

This week throughout the USA libraries are celebrating: Banned Book Week Celebrating the Freedom to Read.  If you go to many of the local libraries you may see a display of books on a table with paper wrapped around it saying banned.

In St Paul, there have been attempts in the library system to keep you from having access to materials.  This can be done in many ways.  The approach that most people do and use is by approaching library staff and complaining about material that they may have read or see on display.  A formal approach is to ask for "reconsideration"

The staff when they hear about challenges to materials which can include movies, books, even Cd's seem to not just "let it go" but take it seriously and discuss it with their colleagues.

I did several data practice requests with libraries to see what challenges/requests on materials they received over the past two years.  The St Paul Library System are the following:

(1) The Human Centipede, DVD
The patron stated the the "film is irrelevent, disgusting, indecent and totally without any
beneficial value to anyone."

(2) Miracles Every Day, Book
The customer objected to the book because it "develops into "selling" faith healing.  The objector of the material stated after researching the book on Google there were "accounts of various people who felt they'd for a scam" because they had to pay dollars to see the author.

(3) Quien ha visto mi orinal?/Who has seen my potty?, Book
The book is basically a toliet training book.  The objections were the use of the words "caca" and"culito."  The patron felt the words were not appropriate for little children.  Other than the previous two examples of possible banned material, this objection brought some discussion among the library staff.

What "caca" and "culito" meant was part of the conversation.  One perspective is that "caca" is "roughly equivalent to poop or crap." a library staff stated.  The staff person went on to say, "the" word "culito" which is a diminutive form of "culo," a word for a person's posterior that is a little stronger than "butt" but not as strong as "ass."  There was also discussion that regional variations of the language and dialect can play a role of emphasis and meaning of words.

(4) The Ranma 1/2, Teen Graphic Novel Series
Since it being a series of books there may be certain volumes that could be more objectionable than others.  The library user showed the library staff that there was "some nudity" in some of the material.  The staff was told by the man that some other library "removed" the book from the teen section and moved to the "adult" section.  Discussion took place between the librarian who stated that "reputable literary sources said it was appropriate for teens".

(5) The Birth of a Nation, DVD D.W. Griffith's well known movie has been the brunt of censorship discussion since the film was released in 1915.  This objection was a formal request for reconsideration by the user of the St Paul Public Library.  The objector stated everything in the movie is objectionable "particularly the way that Black people are depicted."  The person had viewed the entire film and further stated "even if it was made in 1915-it is even more deplorable today as it was then."

This "formal" reconsideration of material created the most buzz among the library staff.  There was a memo outlining reasons why to keep "Birth of a Nation":

"There's a fair amount of rhetoric about movies being a "universal language". D. W. Griffith more or-less invented that language, and Birth of a Nation is his most iconic work. Virtually every film history/theory class in every college in the country starts with Lumiere, Edison and Griffith. Those few that don't show Birth of a Nation are making a conscious effort to avoid the controversy and instead select a different Griffith film.

There are 129 different DVD records for Birth of a Nation in OCLC (it's now in the public domain, so any publisher can put out an edition). Records 1-10 alone account for 2290 libraries. If we were to remove it, we might actually be the only library in the country that carries DVDs not to own Birth of a Nation.

It was ranked #44 on the American Film Institutes 100 Years... 100 Movies list when initially released in 1998. It was not on the list when re-issued in 2007, no doubt because AFI was on the receiving end of some controversy. It was replaced at #49 by Griffith's Intolerance (his "apology" for the ideology in Birth). Both films were the only representative from before 1920 on their respective lists.

A quick survey of "Most Important (or Influential) Films" lists shows Birth or some less controversial Griffith stand-in on each one. TCM listed Birth among its 15 Most Influential Films of All Time. 

 Our copies of Birth of a Nation have been checked out 376 times.

 Yes, it contains things that are ideologically objectionable. I object to them. The KKK are represented heroically. Even though ideologically I agree with the complaints, I think that removing it would be counter-productive on those very grounds. I think lots of important historical artifacts - books, movies, whatever - have elements that we find offensive today, and yet if we have them available we can learn from them and think about them, whereas removing them represents a great whitewashing of history, creating a far more ideologically damaging present."

None of the material I wrote about were banned or censored from the St Paul Library System.  The staff it seems after reviewing the documents I got took patron's concerns seriously and acted upon them in due diligence.

Just another point:  Who are the selectors of materials at libraries and how do they choose what materials we get to see, watch, and hear?  Is that censorship?  Just wondering?  Another post maybe.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

City of St Paul keeping corrective recommendations about cops secret

Several weeks ago I saw in the Pioneer Press an article that described the millions of dollars that St Paul taxpayers had to pay for the bad behavior of some of the saintly city's cops.  What "intrigued" me about the article was the following statement:
"The city attorney's office sends memos to all city departments at the conclusion of lawsuits, which include recommendations for any changes. Grewing (City Attorney) said they're confidential under attorney-client privilege, so she can't specify what suggestions have been made, but sometimes they recommend changes to training."
When I saw this statement I said to myself, “That is not right - the public has a right to know."
The "corrective actions" that the St Paul Police Department are going to take should be public.  The public has paid out millions of dollars because of lawsuits over police actions, and they have a right to know what steps are being taken to correct those actions.
Should it be a secret what new training the St Paul Police Department is doing to make sure that the residents of St Paul are not beat upon?  Is it so "top secret" that the public should not know what policy changes are made to be sure that bad cops are held accountable by the Chief and the public?
I decided to approach St Paul City Council President Kathy Lantry's office and speak with her.  I had communicated with her in the past - most recently about the $300,000 plus payout for the violation by St Paul cops of Anne Rasmusson's privacy
Ms, Lantry was not available so I spoke with her staff person Ellen Biales.  I stated that the data should be public and I encouraged her to ask the appropriate people to make it public. Our interaction on this issue continued over the next couple of months, with her telling me yesterday that the memos that were given to the St Paul Police Department outlining "corrective actions" will remain secret under attorney/client privilege.

The memos she described to me do not deal with specific individual behavior, but recommendations for changes for the Police Department to make sure there's accountability.
Now I appreciate Ms. Biales and Council President's Lantry's office efforts to find out what the documents were about and to entertain my questions.  Whether or not Ms. Lantry wants to have those documents public is another matter.  But as my conversation with Ms. Biales ended yesterday in the hallway of City Hall she made it very clear to me they will not be public.
But Ms. Biales is not the person that decides … it is not the City Attorney who decides … it is the client.  The privilege rests with the client, not the City Attorney.  In this situation as in most municipalities and in the City of St Paul, the most logical person is Mayor Chris Coleman.
Mayor Coleman, the privilege should not be claimed here, and the memos should be public.
It is interesting to note that nearly $500,000 has already been spent in 2013 on settlements, courts costs, and staff time for bad cop behavior.
Will actions of the cops be corrected if the public does not know what the suggested recommendations for corrective action are?  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Terms and Conditions mean Transparency to You?

Over the past week I have been visiting (web surfing) various state and local government agency websites to see if they make reference to the Data Practices Act or let the public know how to make information requests on their first page (Home Page).  To me it is important for the public to have ease in order to seek information about themselves or their government.

But it seems the ease part is not what the government wants, either by design or ignorance.

I reviewed various websites and I then tweeted my grades and quick finds:

  1. Minn Dept of Labor & Industry gets an "F" for having no reference to data practices on website for public.
  2. As I do field trip of agencies see if easy 4 public w data practices I give MN Board of Nursing "F" No ref on website
  3. Minnesota Board of Psychology gets a "B" for having ref to data requests @ bottom of website...
  4. 3 in a row, agencies have no ref to Data Practices for public on website gets "F"
  5. Shame! Shame! Another state agency has no ref for public on data practices on website. An "F" for
  6. The Minn Dept of Health website gets "F" for not having reference or link to data practices for public. 

    The one website I spent the most time at was Metro Transit because I wanted to make a data practices request to Chief Harrington of Metro Transit Police.  I looked around the site for the Chief's email, but to no avail could not find it.   Are not email addresses of public employees public?  Yes, they are, but by visiting several websites such as Metro Transit the government agencies want to make it hard for public to know those email addresses.

    After about 10 minutes I found an email address through the Contact Us link at bottom of the home page of Metro Transit via the Metro Transit Police TipLine.  I sent my email and got a response from John Sigveland who is the Public Relations Manager of Metro Transit and also their data practices person.

    Mr Sigveland I decided to call for two reasons: (1) about my data request and, (2) about my "F" grade which I gave the Metro Transit website:

    11 Sep
    Sorry to say yr website not good for public to find out haw to make a data request.You get an "F"

    Mr. Sigveland's response to my question about placing a reference to how public can do data requests or a link on main page of the Metro Transit website was quite amazing.

    He stated that if you or I go to the Metropolitan Council website page, scrawl down to the bottom of the site and click on "Terms and Conditions" it will link you to a page dealing with data practices and how to make data requests.

    The first question came to my mind as I did what he told me to do:  Who would know that "Terms and Conditions" on the very bottom of the the Met Council website deals with how to make data requests?  The answer, NO ONE.

    My view is that the Metropolitan Council along with many other agencies are in a mindset to have barriers to make it hard for the public to ask for data and how to use the laws to make them more accountable by not having references to it on their front website page, the Homepage.

    It is either ignorance, forgetfulness, or planned and intended by agencies not to make it easy for public to know about a very useful tool for transparency and accountability.

    I gave a "B" to the Minnesota Board of Psychology for their reference to data requests on the their homepage.  I spoke with Angelina Barnes, Executive Director of the Board why she decided to do this.  Her comment was direct, "we serve the public"  If we can make it easier for them, it is better for us, seems to be her agencies motto.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Cell-Phone tracking: Minn cops know where you are with KingFish

The Hennepin County Sheriff since the spring of 2010 has been using a device known as the KingFish which can track a cell phone without permission from a provider such as ATT, Verizon, and other similar companies.  The Sheriff was able to get this piece of high tech equipment with a Homeland Security grant.  The cost for the KingFish was $426,150.

Th Hennepin County Board gave approval for Sheriff Stanek to have the KingFish after postponing at least once because there were questions about legality, protocols, and procedures.  There was also discussion ever so slight and minimum in what situations will the "cell-phone sniffer" be used.  The Star Tribune did report on the Board's approval.

If one reviewed the meeting and the documents as I did one would see that there was very minimal information given to the Board on which laws could possibly restrict its use or guide it.  Kip Carver, of the Hennepin County Sheriffs office gives oblique comments such as meeting legal thresholds and that they will get a County Attorney's opinion to help them with their legal standards.  But there were no questions as to what those legal thresholds were. The Hennepin County Board voted to get the KingFish in my judgement without much debate and information.  Commissoner Mike Opat voted against it.

With it being now over 3 years since Sheriff Stanek got this new high-tech tool it's time to check to see how Minnesota's largest county is using it.

The use of the KingFish does in my judgement have some constitutional issues and implications with a recent US Supreme Court decision, United States v Jones.  Also even before the Court decision, Minnesota had statutes governing electronic monitoring.

Has Hennepin County Sheriff's office been following our state privacy laws?  How are they making sure they are not violating or even on the borderline of violating our state and federal 4th Amendment rights?

The only document or statement provided about the KingFish before the County Board was the following:

"Cellular Exploitation System (Kingfish) - $426,150
Description: This equipment would be used in the Sheriff's investigations bureau. The
system acts as a mobile wireless phone tower and has the capability to find, track and/or deny mobile phone service. Acting as its own tower, this device can receive information from all mobile phones that are powered on within a predetermined radius.  This allows investigators to gain mobile phone intelligence regarding suspects involved in criminal activity"

In other words, can track cell phones, when they are not being used by you.  The KingFish device is its own cell tower, picking up signals from all phones that are turned on.

According to the March 23, 2010 StarTribune article:

"Inspector Kip Carver told the Board prior to the vote that the department is committed to using "best practices" in using the system and that it will seek opinions from the Hennepin County attorney's office and draw up guidelines on when and how the system will be used."

So, Inspector (now Major) Carver, to see how accountable the Hennepin County Sheriffs office has been with the KingFish I have submitted a data practices request.  Secondly, though I encourage the Hennepin County Board to follow up on their decision of 2010 with some tough questions as to whether or not the KingFish is "fishing" legally or illegally, or on the borderline.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also has a KingFish, the same questions and oversight should be asked of that agency.