Monday, September 26, 2011

Cops and cameras----Modern peeping toms?

The Star Tribune had a story today about the Minneapolis Police Department purchasing several roll-em cameras on poles which can be placed conveniently in areas throughout the city.  What the article failed to discuss is the right to privacy and anonymity in a public place.

The article states there is no law that bans or regulates recording in public places.  I take it meaning a city ordinance or state law.  In that respect, the reporter is right, but should there not be.

I believe there is a right to privacy in a public place.  This means there is behavior and actions that should be respected by government as a zone of privacy when it uses camera surveillance.  An example of that behavior or action are as follows as stated by Robert Ellis Smith, Publisher of Privacy Journal.

What's 'Public' Can Be Private

"There are many activities in public that are entitled to privacy protection, according to the clear implications of previous federal court holdings in the U.S. These include: going to and from a house of worship, an abortion clinic, or a medical facility; holding hands or embracing affectionately in public; participating in a political demonstration or wearing political symbols; reading a book or a magazine; mediating or praying, and perhaps chatting on a cell phone in a way that is audible nearby. The right to vote in the U.S. and Canada may be interpreted to prohibit videotaping citizens as they visit a polling place." 

Cameras have been a part of our lives for decades.  We would see occasionally 25 years ago a camera at the bank, maybe at a "secure" area, but not as prevalent as today. The Target Corporation gift of surveillance cameras in downtown Minneapolis to the multiple cameras used by the St Paul police left over from the National GOP Convention in 2008, our law enforcement agencies have their cameras rolling and recording.  This does even include the feed that some agencies may have connected from private cameras.

Technology is changing the dynamics of how law enforcement does its business, but at what cost to our liberty and privacy interests?  I do not oppose technology being used to keep us safe, but I believe it is important though for law enforcement to be accountable, transparent, and open as to what the new "toys" do.

There can and should be public discussion of the who, what, where, when, why, and how of this kind of  public surveillance.

What are the safeguards for specific tracking of individuals and cars?  About the use of the "zoom" or magnification on subjects of those powerful cameras?  Because of the sophistication of the video cameras featured in the story or used now by the various police departments and sheriffs, How does facial recognition technology play into the video surveillance system?  Are the cameras tuned up with behavioral recognition software as the University of Minnesota has done?  Do they have audio recording possibilities?  Are there audits?

Do public entities have the policies, rules, or laws that should govern these kind of surveillance systems that are improving daily as technology gets better?

We need to recognize our privacy/self-autonomy liberty and interests so that there is not "an imbalance of power between the government as "watcher" and the citizens as "subject".

(Quoted part of last paragraph is from Melissa Ngo, Senior Counsel of EPIC 
in comments submitted to the Department of Homeland Security in 2008)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monitor or surveillance in Minnesota licensed facilities?

The Star Tribune article called "Granny Cams" which appeared yesterday caught my attention.  It is the constant conflict with technology and privacy that is the heart of the story.  Cameras that are designed so small to be used to prevent harm to others who are vulnerable.  Sounds like a good idea.  It is not so easy to implement though.

As Roberta Opheim, State Ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities recognized by her statement in the story, individuals who are vulnerable have liberty and privacy interests. There must be recognition of self autonomy.

Do not be in the rush to fancy all nursing homes, foster care places, and other licensed facilities with the latest equipment to monitor the employees and the people who live in them, particularly in their "living space" or their home without thorough public discussion.

In 2007, when authorizing language was done for the limited purposes of the foster care homes who did not want an employee for overnight purposes it was done in a very not public way.  There were amendments to the authorizing language in 2009 (245A .11 sub 7a Article 1--Section 4) which can give a framework for the Legislature to guide itself and the State if we wish to expand the use of technology to monitor or do surveillance

I would prefer "monitor" then "surveillance."  The actions, intentions, and purposes are quite different from each other..

Thursday, September 15, 2011

E-mail to School Board Chair deep 6 supt finalist?

There are many times when public bodies interview people for positions for a city, county, or school district.  The positions can be for city coordinators/managers, superintendents, or even members for a commission of a public body or even the public body itself.

Recently, the Stillwater School District hired a new superintendent. An off shoot event with hiring of the superintendent ended with the Minnesota Commissioner of Administration.

The Stillwater School District asked the Commissioner for an opinion on a data practices issue.

One of the finalist's of the Superintendent search who did not get the position had knowledge that an e-mail was sent by an individual which he was the subject of. The e-mail was sent to the Board Chair.  The not successful candidate asked to inspect the e-mail.   This is the essence of the Commissioner's opinion.

When a job opening happens particularly a high profile position there are people who may want to comment on the job hunters.  Specially, if they think the person is not up to par for the job.  In those situations a party may communicate verbally.  E-mail is quite a different story.  When the Board Chair received that e-mail it became "government data" subject to the Data Practices Act.

It is human behavior, in general, if you do not get the job as Superintendent of a school district or any position you try to get an understanding why.

Was there something in the e-mail communication that could have had an impact on this person's candidacy?

The superintendent finalist may never know. The Commissioner ruled that the e-mail is correspondence between an elected official and an individual.  Even though the superintendent candidate was the subject.

The Commissioner based this on that the Board Chair did not share the e-mail with any person.  The School District in its request for an opinion stated, " The Board Chair did not disclose the email to any other board member, nor did he share it with School District administrators or employees. …"  The law in question is 13.601, subdivision 2.

Did the Board Chair share the contents verbally with others?  In interaction with other board members was there any verbal or written communication about any contents of the e-mail?  Does the Commissioner's opinion deal with the issue when verbal or written comments based on the e-mail are shared?

The opinion takes the position the e-mail communication as a whole is private as long as it is between an elected official and an individual. Should this be?

If you are a candidate for a position with the government and a subject of a memo, an e-mail, or something similar should you be able to access the government data about you if the communication was sent by an individual to an elected official and not shared physically?

Was the Superintendent finalist deep-sixed? 

NOTE****Elected officials do not include judges or legislators who are not under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Season for lobbyists at Legislature begins

After Labor Day for many people means the end of the summer easiness.  Back to the grind of work.  One place for sure where the "grind" starts is at the Minnesota Legislature.

Between now and the end of November when the grind slows down again because of the Holiday season, hundreds of lobbyists, interest groups, and many public and private associations will be visiting your state legislator and other members of the state legislature.

The visitors will be asking Chairpersons of various policy committees to be the Chief Author of their bill.  They may ask your legislator to sponsor a bill that concerns the area in which the elected official and you live in.  The interest group representative may go to a legislator because of the employment and background the elected person may have.  A number of reasons.

This is the time of year is when the legislator starts to think seriously of the bills he/she wants to introduce.  I have heard many times from elected officials when I ask them about legislation--"wait" until after Labor Day because they are back in their districts and rarely come to St Paul until after Labor Day. 

When the special interest representative meets with the legislator who you elected wants to discuss an idea for a bill and get their Chief Authorship, there are basically two ways of how the bill will be directed.  The interested party/lobbyist being the conductor or the Chief Author working and leading in concert with the interested party.  Most times a bill is created the concert way, but once in a while the conductor is the interested party/lobbyist.

Now is the most impelling time for you to meet with your legislators, when you can have an in depth conversation on issues that impact your community, district, and state.  You will be competing with others, but you are their constituent.  Time can and will be made for you

Ask your legislator----What are you thinking of introducing this year for the district?  Are you introducing any bills for any interest groups or associations?  I have an idea for a bill--Can I work with you on it?

A legislator's book fills up very fast with bills of legislation they will introduce.  You want to make sure you and others from the district are heard loud and clear.

To get on your way, the Minnesota Legislature has a great tool to find out who your Representatives and Senators are.