Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gov Dayton is the real dealer behind the Vikes Stadium proposal

The last several years has been one of stalemate with the various Viking stadium proposals.  Yes, several legislators took initiatives on a football stadium, but their leadership was with who they were, not based on the elected position they hold as a state wide leader, such as Governor, or elected political leader such as Majority Leader, Speaker, or Minority Leader.

I have to give Governor Dayton credit for sending a strong message, to come up with a proposal and vote for it, one way or the other, so the "stadium nightmare" can finally be over.  The Governor has  asked for the various proposals to be sent to him to where he either serves as broker with the various interests to hammer out the deal, or decides to make his own proposal, with a sink or swim attitude.

The public wants to know what happens behind the closed doors of the elected legislators, legislative leaders, and the Governor on the Vikings stadium ideas.  There needs to be a fully documented record as to how the "birth" happened to the deal, or to the "death" of a deal.  The public deserves better than some public relations piece announcing that we have agreement or no agreement with generalities.

The possibility of the Vikings leaving Minnesota is not some "small potato" issue.  It is a very major issue which hits every Minnesotan with nostalgia of the past and with hopes of the future.  For many Minnesotans there is an identity link and pride with the Vikings.  I even recently told the story how LA Rams came to the Twin Cities in 69 for the playoffs and how George Allen if I remember right was complaining about the cold.

It needs to be clear to the public what the horse trades are, the compromises, and where the common ground was found if there is a football stadium proposal.  If there is no proposal, no common ground found, it has to be clear what the "deal breakers" are.

You have a tough situation, Mr. Dayton, but you are leading, as Albert Schweitzer said, "Example is leadership."  May others do same.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Patriot Act and Minnesota: 10 years later.

President G. W. Bush signed the Patriot Act 10 years ago today.  As many of us remember it passed with lightning speed with no public hearings.  The legislation being created in secret. Soon as the bill became public, the legislation was criticized from conservative and liberal groups.  There's been discussion of it ever since.  

But what many Minnesotans may not know about or remember is that there were attempts as with other state legislatures to have a state version of the Patriot Act.  This was done with various initiatives proposed by the Ventura Administration and legislators.

Suggestions and schemes ran from making secret public data that had been public for decades, easier access to our e-mails and phone calls,  to having a broad definition of terrorism.  This was just the tip of the iceberg of the many proposals.

I knew what was coming based upon press reports and speaking with legislators.  Many other groups and individuals also were also aware that there would be lot of action in the 2002 Legislative session.  What happened?

A broad coalition was formed from left to right, librarians to lawyers, citizens to professional lobbyists who monitored and engaged the legislators and the then Governor as the bills moved through the process.

The movement, progress, and end results of the "broad" Minnesota Patriot Act type bills was quite different than what happened in DC.  There were public hearings, legislators from different perspectives asking tough questions, and very important comments from the public.  I still remember a direct tit for tat discussion about the definition of terrorism between Representative Stanek and Peter Erlinder, Professor at William Mitchell Law School.

At the end of session as it sometimes happens with legislation, all the Patriot Act-Terrorism type related bills were put in one big Omnibus bill, and further complicating the situation there was a conference committee.

Myself and others monitored and engaged the conference committee as they met day and night.  I still remember being there at 3:00am in the morning when the agreement happened.  Many of the provisions I had concerns and lobbied about were either neutered, taken out, or balanced.

Minnesotans owe a big thank you to the legislators who asked the tough questions, reflected, and said we need a balanced bill when legislation may, can, and will compromise our civil liberties, privacy, and self autonomy.

But during the past ten years through today there are continuous proposals before our legislature emanating from the tragedy of 9/11 and from the same fertile ground where the Patriot Act was born.  Some of those I have mentioned previously in my posts, others will come in the future.  We, the public, still need to be engaged at the Legislature as we were in 2002, and ever vigilant.

A quote from Louis Brandeis, serves as one of many, a guide for me when there's legislation proposed that has impact on our civil liberties, privacy, and self autonomy.  It is the following: 

"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."
Louis D. Brandeis

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Does Minnesota DVS database need accountability?

In the October 4, 2011, edition of the Pioneer Press, reporter Brady Gervais writes, "DPS (Department of Public Safety) audits the DVS database monthly and monitors it regularly, Skoogman said. If patterns of potential misuse are found, DPS contacts the individual agency." Andy Skoogman is the chief public information officer for DPS.

Recently, I used the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act to request to inspect data of the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) database audit reports of agencies and police departments that were involved in recent allegations of misuse of the Minnesota Drivers and Vehicle Services database.  I also wanted to inspect all data related to the Department of Public Safety DVS audits as to policies, procedures, standards, and format for what the audit is, does, and how it is done.  Thirdly, all data as to what the process is for investigating violation of law as to the improper use of the DVS database.

You may be asking why would I want to do this?

First, I was concerned about the violation of our privacy with the DVS database that holds drivers' records, photos and personal data such as home addresses, phone numbers, and possibly medical data. Secondly, the DVS database has had problems and abuses for many years, and thirdly, media reports gives me doubts about the Department of Public Safety efforts to protect our privacy.

The response by the Department of Public Safety(DPS) to my data practices request is quite puzzling.

To my request to inspect DVS audit reports of law enforcement agencies.  The response was, "The Department does not conduct audits of law enforcement agencies and therefore the Department has no data that is responsive to this request."  Further because there are no audits, DPS states "there are no policies, procedures, standards and format, nor an explanation of how they are done."  As to what the process is in investigating improper use of the DVS database, the reply. "DVS does not investigate violation of law," therefore no data.  There are investigations for misuse, but it is done by the agency that misused the database.

Is there accountability and privacy protection in the Driver and Vehicle Services database?  Maybe not.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spirit of J. Edgar Hoover still haunts FBI with N-Dex

J. Edgar Hoover was the long time Director of the FBI, 48 years to be exact.  Revered and despised by Americans for many reasons.  Some reasons for that disdain is emerging in modern day with Mr. Hoover's former agency with N-Dex.  N-Dex is the FBI push to have all police records throughout the nation be in one big data repository or database.

Mr. Hoover was a fastidious consumer and organizer of files and data. During his time the FBI had only millions of files, with N-Dex there will be hundreds of millions, if not billions.  Mr Hoover thrived on knowing as much as he could on everything he thought was important to fight crime and for the national security of the nation.  Sounds like similar rationale for N-Dex

Yes, time are a changing, but is there more accountability and transparency than in 1972 when Mr. Hoover died?  Yes, there is, but the institutional suspicions if the public questions are still there.

The FBI has approached Minnesota law enforcement and correction communities to share with them and to rest of the nation, millions of records on its people.  This information could be from the innocent stop by a police officer to ask where you are going and at same time takes down your identifying data, your call about noise or the barking dog about the neighbor, or your witnessing of a crime. The data is in the form of incident/case report data, arrest data, and booking and incarceration data from law enforcement, jails and prisons, and probation.

There will be personally identifiable information such as names, address, and phone numbers, as well as non identifying descriptive information about crime incidents and criminal investigations.  It is the local or state agency that determines what an incident report is.  The FBI does have parameters, but it is up to the local law enforcement agencies to submit within those guidelines.  The problem is the FBI parameters are very wide.

Victims, witnesses, reporters of crime, and alleged suspects names, adult and juvenile, will be in the database.
You might wonder why this matters to you, a law-abiding citizen.

And that's where what we have been hearing and reading in the media comes into play.  The incident of a great number of law enforcement officers looking up an individual on law enforcement databases.  Or even when our own State Legislature overwhelmingly supported a bill to ban participation of our state in Real ID, a Federal program which sets ID standards and collects information.  One huge factor why legislators opposed Real ID was the sharing of our data with Federal agencies.  An issue with N-Dex is our data can be shared to "aid in homeland security.

To illustrate even more is the recent story that was about suspicious activity reports and the Mall of America.  The article marks how data can get into an information system on a individual who is doing no wrong, and the data is shared with the FBI and possibly the Department of Homeland Security.

So what are consequences or potential unintended consequences of Minnesotans sharing with the FBI and being a part of a database for government officials and law enforcement people to have access to.

One consequence could be an injury to reputation or liberty if information is inaccurate from the get go on submits. Fearing the possibility of ending up on a government watch list is another.  Serious jeopardy of using data out of context, data in one situation is accurate and in another misleading. These records rolling into N-Dex from Minnesota about you WILL circulate.  People can see the potential for real harm and abuse to individuals, the loss of privacy and liberty being the outcome.

The FBI with its presentations have been direct in answering people's questions about N-Dex, but there are shortcomings.  One is that it is N-Dex files are not under the 1974 Privacy Act for purposes of subject access.  There are others.

The Criminal and Juvenile Justice Information Task Force will be discussing the approach which the state should take with N-Dex on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, 9:00am to 4:00pm at the Minnesota Judicial Center, Room 230.  The meeting is open to the public.

Basically, it comes to the following options.  Do nothing and the FBI will approach all the law enforcement, corrections, and jail agencies for all their records which they can do by current law and get them.  Or come up with a process to protect our privacy and liberties in a thoughtful way and then enact legislation to do that.

Hoover's legacy of secret files, deception, and trampling on rights and liberties hang over the FBI presently and in the foreseeable future.  But there has been change with the nation's top cop agency since the days of Hoover, evident by the FBI discussing publicly N-Dex.  Another alteration also has been a more ever vigilant public.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Voyeurs, government databases, and you

The stories that appeared in the Pioneer Press yesterday and today online brings again attention to the public the vast amounts of information that government has on us.  There are databases that government has which ranges from specific medical conditions that we have held by the Department of Health to the subject of the media articles, the drive license data.

Government is not the only entitiy that have databases filled with information on us, the private sector does too.  The subject of this post will only be government databases, private databases another time.

With technology there has been an invasion of databases in Minnesota state and local government.  For example, from higher ed information on students, to the Board of Pharmacy which has millions of records of prescriptions we take, to the new databases sprouting up within law enforcement agencies which with high-speed cameras quickly read thousands of license plates of our cars in a short time period and store the time and place where our car was seen or parked.

It is important to have databases for the work that government does, but are the laws in Minnesota up to par enough for the use, accountability, and transparency of them?

Are Minnesota laws strong enough for government employees when they misuse, abuse, and gain illegal entry to data bases with our personal info?

Should government be collecting the data and for how long should it be kept?

I started the title of this post with the word voyeur.  I am using the word in the following way, ": a prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous" Merriam-Webster. 

There are thousands of government employees who use the government databases in the proper way and within their duties.  But there are a number of people who use them for the wrong reasons.  It is more common than once in a blue moon.

The Minnesota Legislature in its oversight role can review and inventory all databases to review security, audits, and compliance of law for proper use.  Are they authorized under law?  Are the government databases organized to monitor abidance of privacy, access, and security rules and law?

Who is watching the watchers?  If the Legislature does not do it, who will?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Legacy projects offbeat? Is not Legacy Amendment unusual?

Yesterday, Mike Kaszuba did a story on Legacy grants in the Star Tribune that have been awarded primarily through the cultural/history portion of the Minnesota Legacy initiative.

The headline says, "---Legacy funds land far afield" and "helping some offbeat efforts."  What the majority of people voted for in 2008 could be called "offbeat", unusual, or unconventional. The people of Minnesota voted for an unconventional/offbeat way of funding programs and projects that would or may never get the attention of the public or legislators. Projects funded from the Lessard-Sams Council to the States Arts Board are now getting attention that generally only a group or a small number of people would have an interest in.

Some of the projects mentioned in the story ran the gambit from the oral history of psychiatry in Minnesota, history of comics in Minnesota, to the cultural legacy of Asian-Americans in North Minneapolis.

Mr Rod Grams is quoted as saying, "so tight on money, especially on the state level" it is difficult to justify them.  Does he mean some of the projects mentioned in the story or the "goodies" that the hunting and fishing groups have gotten?

What I know is this, I am not a hunter, not a fisherman, never hunted and the last time I fished was about 45 years ago, but I voted for the Legacy Amendment to give our State an opportunity for all the people to get a part of and to preserve our "Legacy" of fishing, hunting, environment, history, and culture.

Through thick and thin, or hell and high water, if there are attempts to repeal the Legacy Amendment I will work against it.

I appreciate the history and the culture of  Minnesota which all who have inhabited our state and who will in the future bring to Minnesota.  There needs to be a way for us to record, view, hear, and to learn and understand our cultural contributions and history of all people.  The Legacy projects do that.

As projects and programs are funded I am sure with some groups and individuals it will raise their eyebrows.  Which is good.  It is important for accountability, transparency, and openness as to how the Legacy monies are spent and for what.

This past session and special session I worked with Rep Dean Urdahl and Sen Ingebrigtsen to get a law passed to bring more accountability and transparency for the Legacy Amendment.

So let's say the the results of the study to see how women faced the culture of the St Paul Police Department, or history of maternity care in Duluth before 1941, or any of the other project results or finished products are not available and accessible to the public.  If that happens, there is a problem.

As these type of projects are funded and completed there needs to a way for the public to get access to them.  The products need to be online if possible.

The Legacy Amendment passed in 2008 had a expansive coalition of interest groups and individuals to support it.

The Legacy Amendment projects are a broad reflection of the diversity and history of our state.

We must recognize and understand that.  Is that unusual, unconventional, or offbeat?