Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Terms and Conditions mean Transparency to You?

Over the past week I have been visiting (web surfing) various state and local government agency websites to see if they make reference to the Data Practices Act or let the public know how to make information requests on their first page (Home Page).  To me it is important for the public to have ease in order to seek information about themselves or their government.

But it seems the ease part is not what the government wants, either by design or ignorance.

I reviewed various websites and I then tweeted my grades and quick finds:

  1. Minn Dept of Labor & Industry gets an "F" for having no reference to data practices on website for public.
  2. As I do field trip of agencies see if easy 4 public w data practices I give MN Board of Nursing "F" No ref on website
  3. Minnesota Board of Psychology gets a "B" for having ref to data requests @ bottom of website...
  4. 3 in a row, agencies have no ref to Data Practices for public on website gets "F"
  5. Shame! Shame! Another state agency has no ref for public on data practices on website. An "F" for
  6. The Minn Dept of Health website gets "F" for not having reference or link to data practices for public. 

    The one website I spent the most time at was Metro Transit because I wanted to make a data practices request to Chief Harrington of Metro Transit Police.  I looked around the site for the Chief's email, but to no avail could not find it.   Are not email addresses of public employees public?  Yes, they are, but by visiting several websites such as Metro Transit the government agencies want to make it hard for public to know those email addresses.

    After about 10 minutes I found an email address through the Contact Us link at bottom of the home page of Metro Transit via the Metro Transit Police TipLine.  I sent my email and got a response from John Sigveland who is the Public Relations Manager of Metro Transit and also their data practices person.

    Mr Sigveland I decided to call for two reasons: (1) about my data request and, (2) about my "F" grade which I gave the Metro Transit website:

    11 Sep
    Sorry to say yr website not good for public to find out haw to make a data request.You get an "F"

    Mr. Sigveland's response to my question about placing a reference to how public can do data requests or a link on main page of the Metro Transit website was quite amazing.

    He stated that if you or I go to the Metropolitan Council website page, scrawl down to the bottom of the site and click on "Terms and Conditions" it will link you to a page dealing with data practices and how to make data requests.

    The first question came to my mind as I did what he told me to do:  Who would know that "Terms and Conditions" on the very bottom of the the Met Council website deals with how to make data requests?  The answer, NO ONE.

    My view is that the Metropolitan Council along with many other agencies are in a mindset to have barriers to make it hard for the public to ask for data and how to use the laws to make them more accountable by not having references to it on their front website page, the Homepage.

    It is either ignorance, forgetfulness, or planned and intended by agencies not to make it easy for public to know about a very useful tool for transparency and accountability.

    I gave a "B" to the Minnesota Board of Psychology for their reference to data requests on the their homepage.  I spoke with Angelina Barnes, Executive Director of the Board why she decided to do this.  Her comment was direct, "we serve the public"  If we can make it easier for them, it is better for us, seems to be her agencies motto.


  1. I think you are being too simplistic. I would not expect everything on the front web site. Both web site front pages have a search box. If you put "data privacy" into the search box for both Labor & Industry and Commerce, information on their data practice policies come up. I admit I am not the your average researcher, but this simple and common sense technique gives you the result you are looking for.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Gary. I do plead guilty to being simplistic. A person going into a government agency you can usually ask a person for direction or for information. On the homepage of an agency it is hard to do that.

    Many people want information from government. To facilitate the ease of doing that simply placing a link with described wording on the homepage can be beneficial.

    I did what you suggested. The Commerce Dept when I put in data privacy/data practices nothing came up telling me how to access info on the first pages. The Dept of Labor and Industry different. I put in data privacy, zip. Data Practices I get a link of how to access data.

    My main point is that government should think of how it can be made easy to get information to the public.

    By having a "simplistic" description of words describing access to info with links on homepage of govt agency or governmental sites can be very positive for the public of Minnesota.

    Rich Neumeister