Friday, November 15, 2013

Minnesota potpourri of privacy and open government

Everyday I learn something in the areas of privacy and open government.  This is done by reading, talking with people, or just having a good nose for what's going on.  I have shared these with you through the blog posts and tweets @richneumeister

Something I am going to try for the first time and which I may do once in a while is share with you some of my experiences, vignettes, and things I learn as I engage in the public venue in a short format. So here it goes:

This I week went to the Ramsey County Sheriff's office to inspect and review a data request I had done. (remember under data practices to look at government data is free Chapter 13.03, subd. 3)  I decided to ask the  records office if I could "inspect" the arrest data of people who were arrested by Ramsey County Sheriff over the weekend.  Immediate response by personnel, "You can look it up online.", there was no terminal available to the public for me to look it up.  Eventually, I was able to review a printed copy after the public information officer of the Sheriff came down.

Are state courts in Minnesota available for the public to go in and watch, anonymously?  My experience for the first time to sit in court for a period of time in decades played differently.  I decided to sit in the misdemeanor arraignment court of Ramsey County the other day.  As soon as I got in the court pew I was approached by a bailiff and asked what I was here for.  Two other people of the court venue asked me who I was.  My answer to to the bailiff was, "Just want to see the administration of justice".  By the way one cannot read the newspaper in court during lull time as the judge herself said "waiting for customers" to appear before her.

This summer I have been making data requests to find out how many administrative subpoenas are issued by various public attorney offices. (administrative subpoenas per state law are done by county attorneys and attorney general to seek records and documents on people in criminal investigations)  Most of the county attorneys and AG cannot tell me precisely how many are issued by them on a yearly basis.  But County Attorney Mike Freeman's office can.  Through 2010-2012, Hennepin County has issued a little over 9000 of these pieces of paper that can easily get personal information on people.  My hats off to the Hennepin County Attorneys office for having a log for easy accountability and transparency for the public.  Here's Hennepin County Attorneys log on administrative subpoenas for 2010 by just clicking on this sentence.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety it seems wants to keep "top secret" the name of the company, the contract, and the cost of public $$$ it costs to either purchase or rent the services of the "cell phone sniffer". This "cellular exploitative device" (KingFish) as Public Safety calls it raises issues of privacy, surveillance, accountability, and transparency and whether police need a warrant to use it.  I made a request for the specific data on October 3, 2013.  I am still waiting for my "data".

Tell me what you think of me doing something like this on a regular basis.  Any items on privacy or open government you think needs attention?

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