Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An indefensible and odious practice with (Foia-Data Practice) data requests

Of all the practices that government agencies do that obstructs the relationship between individual and government and may incense the public more than others is when they do not answer your data request or saying you are not going to get the data through a paragraph or two of legalese.

In many instances, for example, parents may want to get information to appeal a special education decision about their child, a community organization may want to get data on neighborhood developments, and the government will give you an answer that has nothing to do with your data request, or may not answer you at all.

Something like that happened to me recently when I did a request to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension/Department of Public Safety for information about their surveillance tool which they would not even name.  In my data request I was hoping to get inactive criminal files which would tell me in situations it was used, to get data that would outline how the agency makes sure that the tool is not used in violation of our rights and liberties, "accountability"  Also if law enforcement is using the tool in an appropriate and responsible way.  But if you look at the response by the Department of Public Safety closely you will note they do not answer my request directly.  The agency takes the position "we cannot provide details about the equipment" to me.

The attorney representing the agency goes on to say in the letter, "any disclosure regarding the manufacturer, model,...........or other specifics......can render the system useless."  I did not know that the name of the manufacturer is such a secret that if released to the public it would cause great harm.

The focus is on the cellular device itself with their response.  But my request was also for results of the use of the device which BCA wishes to remain nameless.  The public data which should have been given to me is the inactive criminal investigative (closed) files which have allowed me to see what legal thresholds were used, in what situations the device is used, and the results of the use.  Granted some data can be redacted, but to say zip.  Come on now.

But what I just described to you happens many times with just plain residents of this state trying to assert their statutory rights to review their own data, possibly to find out why an agency made the decision they did and chooses to fight it, or a group of people wanting to find out if their property rights are being violated with a possible development.

So how do we the public make sure that government does not behave like this to the populace.  First of all, call the person or send a communication to them pointing out where you disagree, ask them to review again the request.  Many times my experience has shown that their review again provides the data you are asking for or what you really wanted.  Secondly, also speak with the (find out who) data compliance official of that agency or local government.  (example,  City of St Paul has one, state agencies have one)  But also speak with your state legislator, they are the ones that make the laws.

Now with my current data request with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension concerning that hush, hush secret surveillance tool.  I sent another data request for government data asking for the contract with the mysterious company, the date and the cost of the equipment. I am still fighting.

No comments:

Post a Comment