Tuesday, August 2, 2011

GangNet database going BYE-BYE?

A communication sent out by Ramsey County Sheriff  Matt Bostrom to other law enforcement agencies dated August 1, 2011 states that GangNet is to be shut down effective August 15, 2011

GangNet is a database run by the Ramsey County Sheriff's office since 1998.  Two years ago there was a story about the database in the Pioneer Press and a report done by the St. Thomas Law School Community Justice Project with the St. Paul NAACP.  The report and the news story created for the public a number of questions of how law enforcement collects data on people and the databases that police use to keep track of people.  The debate about GangNet and other related issues were front and center in 2010 at the State Legislature.

With the ending of GangNet by the Ramsey County Sheriff a number of questions still need to be answered to the public.  These are some of them:

Why did Sheriff Bostrom make this decision?
When he took office in January, 2011, did he have an evaluation, or review of the GangNet program done?
What did the report say?  Were there issues and problems? Did he talk with his colleagues in law enforcement and what did they say?
With thousands of people being in GangNet should not the subjects be made aware that they either are or were in the database? 
Granted GangNet disappears, Will it not appear in another form?  Is there a need to have such types of databases?  If so how can law enforcement guarantee accountability and transparency?

The GangNet program is an example of how law enforcement collects names and data on thousands of Minnesotans, some justified, some not, putting them in databases and sharing that information with others within the law enforcement community with the public not even knowing about it. There are many databases within Minnesota law enforcement agencies with individual names in them. These databases have names and data from contact reports to licence plate reader collection.

The broader concern of how law enforcement collects "intelligence" on the public, is the issue that underlies the discussion of GangNet.  The Minnesota Legislature in 2010 recognized this by forming a work group to study in essence a tough and expansive question:

How can Minnesota law enforcement collect "intelligence" on citizens to prevent crime and keep people safe, but at the same time have accountability, transparency, and respect Minnesotans privacy and civil liberties?

The group known as the SF 2725 Work Group met last fall.  Their proceedings, material collected, and their report is available through the link/BCA website.  Bottom line is the work group came to a general agreement on some issues, but on others they did not. "Key" issues such as how accountability and transparency is implemented, what is the trigger/standard that is used to collect "intelligence", among other points, there was no agreement.

So is GangNet really going Bye-Bye?  No, it will just rear its head in another form and named something else with less public scrutiny, accountability, and transparency.

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