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?

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