For many long time advocates of privacy and open government at the Minnesota Legislature, yesterdays meeting of the Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy may prove to be a turning point for the residents of Minnesota. For years the Legislature when a specific issue of privacy/open government and advanced technology clash the policymakers take a stab at it, think they have solved the problem, but technology sneakily bypasses the law.
This was the situation with the warrant bill for cell phone location last session. Law enforcement was not knocking on policymakers doors saying we have concerns for the liberty and privacy of Minnesota residents and we wish to update the law to make law enforcement more accountable and to protect the privacy of the people we serve. The last time til this past session that "Privacy of Communications" law was updated in a major way was in 1989. It took a couple of interested legislators for major change for the protection of privacy and law enforcement accountability after 25 years, Senator Branden Peterson and Rep. Joe Atkins (cell phone location privacy bill)
The discussion and debate, and the engaging dialogue and questioning of testifiers, at the Commission meeting shows that rather than the Legislature take a "one bill to solve a problem approach" they may decide to take the big picture view.
That "big picture" view is one acknowledging being that technology is always changing, need to have flexible laws to adopt to that change, but also to have a broad framework to protect the privacy, liberty, and freedom of Minnesotans and access to public data that is so important for an informed populace.
There was also a theme that was quite directed at the law enforcement representatives by the Commission members.......do not surprise the public and Minnesota Legislature with your new surveillance technologies without talking to the public and policymakers. For years and the behavior continues even as write this post, law enforcement has a penchant for secrecy and believes they do not need to be held accountable. That needs to change as many Commission members made clear.
The Commission members also took a survey of themselves to see what issues they may prioritize for the next several months.
The issues were:
-Education/Student data collection
-Enforcement of the Data Practices Act within government entities
-Government technologies used for collection of data in general
-Health care data issues
-Inventory of technology government has already purchased and how it is being used
-Legislative Auditor's reports on data practices in regards to data practices
-Organization of state statutes on data practices
-Political subdivisions increasing data collection requirements for certain business practices
-Review of what other states are doing
-State Agency policies on data sales and the revenue generated
-Timberjay bill issues (bulk data and health plan issues)