Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two meetings: prescription records and license plate scans

Today I had a choice to make.  I could have gone to the Criminal Justice and Juvenile Information Policy Group meeting which dealt with license plate scans being collected and retained by police by the millions or to the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy Advisory Board that oversees the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program (MNPMP) database which has over 7 million prescription records on a million plus Minnesotans.

I decided to go to MNPMP meeting because I am an advisory board member representing privacy concerns.  Every year there is an annual meeting talking about what legislation will be coming for the legislative session.  In past years there has been discussion about proposals to allow law enforcement easy access to your prescription record rather than the current law which is only through a search warrant or sharing your prescription records to others without you knowing about it.

Well the legislative draft bill came out and was discussed point by point.  The part I did not like is where the health-related licensing boards which includes the licensing of nurses to social workers will have direct access to licensee's prescription records if they are under investigation in certain situations. I stated at the meeting something like this, "Build a database for one purpose, and others will come for other purposes."  This is so true in the world of databases.  Points I raised were ones like, Would the individual know about their records being used, or why is prescription record which was collected for one purpose, now being used for another purpose without the person's consent or knowledge.

The Board of Pharmacy though I must compliment has been steadfast in following the law which the drug database is regulated by. 

Now to the Criminal Justice and Juvenile Information Policy Group meeting which was to make a decision about the collection and retention of millions of records of where you and I travel if we happen to be owners of cars collected secretly by the cops.

Per Eric Roper's Star Tribune Blog post  the Policy Group made up of Commissioners, judges, and others decided to make the license scan data private, but deleted the retention of 180 days for the data if there were no hits for law enforcement investigation.

Now I have to scratch my head on this one.  By deleting the retention of 180 days, is the Policy Group saying with all intents and purposes, DO NOT KEEP OR COLLECT LICENSE SCANS ON INNOCENT AND LAW ABIDING PEOPLE, or are they saying the COPS CAN COLLECT ALL THE LICENSE SCAN DATA THEY WANT ON INNOCENT AND LAW ABIDING PEOPLE AND KEEP IT AS LONG AS THEY WANT.

I am perplexed.

By making it private there is no accountability as to how law enforcement will use this data.  My position has been all along if law enforcement is to use the license scans it should be only used for the hit that happens when a plate is matched with same.  For example, if a plate/car is hit with a match for a stolen car, police will do their action.  Under current law, some data will be private or confidential, but after the case is closed a great amount of the data is public. This maintains accountability and transparency.

On the other side of the coin if license scan data was to be maintained by the cops on innocent and law abiding people, the data should remain public for accountability and transparency purposes.  Law enforcement in Minnesota has had too many problems with databases over the past decade.  Who is Watching the Watchers if the data is secret?

Now I read the quote of Justice Anderson in the Strib piece in regards to the reason why the data should be classified as private.

"The problem with this data [is] it has -- to my mind -- some of the highest potential for misuse [than] about any kind of data we keep," said Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson. "And if this data is out there public, just think about ...a stalker...divorce cases."

I disagree with the Justice.  Every kind of public data can be misused, and some current public data even higher potential then license plate scans which have no names attached.

But what about the misuse by law enforcement of this kind of data? Should law enforcement agencies of Minnesota collect and retain movements of law abiding and innocent people?

Now if the Policy Group by it's decision meant that Minnesota law enforcement cannot collect and retain Automatic License Plate Recognition data by the millions on innocent and law abiding Minnesotans and can only use and retain it with "hits" in which that data remains private, that is a good policy choice to begin discussions with at the Legislature.


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