Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tales of Stingray and Kingfish continue w hook of data request

As many readers of this post know since September of last year I have been doing data requests and lobbying for a bill at the Minnesota Legislature that would give greater protections for Minnesotans when government entities want access to your personal and sensitive location data.  Well that bill passed and became law.

For me though, questions still remain about the usage of the Kingfish/Stingray and the recent disclosure that these devices have been used hundreds of times by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.  In effort to find out what was the rationale for its usage so many times I am continuing with data requests under our Minnesota Government Data Practice Act. (statute)

This is part of a recent data request I sent to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety which the Bureau is a division of.

"Pursuant to media coverage, the cellular exploitative devices known as the Kingfish/Stingray have been used hundreds of times over the past several years.  
I have reviewed approximately 20 cases that the devices were used specifically by the BCA for BCA cases that the agency was responsible for.  I have done this pursuant to previous data requests.

This appeared recently in the the newspaper, "Politics in Minnesota"

"Currently, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension are the main agencies known to use such technology. The BCA uses it roughly 100 times a year, according to a spokeswoman."

What I am requesting per Chapter 13 is to inspect and review all government data that documents the usage of the cellular exploitative devices since 2008 with other agencies or entities.

In my discussion with......why the usage of cellular exploitative devices hundreds of times, but so few inactive criminal investigative files held by the BCA to document the usage.  ......indicated that BCA will act many times in a supportive role in the use of exploitative cellular devices, therefore no case file because "it's" not their case.

But I do believe there must be documentation when an device such as the Kingfish/Stingray is used in a supportive role as described to me by........

I want under Chapter 13 to review and inspect all government data that documents the usage of the cellular exploitative devices (Kingfish/Stingray) since 2008 with other agencies or entities."

I left out the name of the person I spoke with.  But what you see here is an example of using a statutory/law for accountability and to bring sunshine to an issue that continues to be of interest to many people.

I will keep you posted.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Will Legislature keep HMO data secret, even while industry is under federal investigation?

This session, the Minnesota Legislature has been debating bills brought forward by the Minnesota Newspaper Association to fix the Supreme Court's / Timberjay decision.  The bills (SF 1770/HF 2167) would make sure that all private companies that contract to perform outsourced government work would be subject to Minnesota's open records/privacy law, the Data Practices Act.

No one objected to the bill until the Minnesota Council of Health Plans came forward, and said the world would end unless they were exempted from the Data Practices Act.  But the proposal has become entangled with a behind the scenes/closed door discussion in secrecy from the offices of the Minnesota Department of Human Services to the leadership of the Legislature.  Last week the Minnesota Senate voted unanimously to give the the Health plans what they demanded.

Here is a question for our lawmakers:  Why would you provide total exemption from our open records law to an industry that is currently under investigation for the misuse of billions of taxpayers dollars?

That's essentially what happened on Friday, when the Senate added an amendment to SF 1770 that gave a blanket exemption to the entire HMO industry, for one year.  HMOs contract with the State to provide public program health care services.  For at least a year or more, the federal government has been investigating these programs, and the role the HMOs play in handing them, due to many charges of mismanagement.  That is reason enough make sure that the public can really see what is going on inside the HMOs, and how they spend taxpayer funds.

I know that the Newspaper Association wanted the bill to correct the Timberjay case. But at what price? What makes these HMOs so special?  If the point of HF 2167/SF 1770 is to make sure that there is public oversight of outsourced spending, why exempt an industry that gets a huge share (hundreds of millions) of that spending?

Some will say that it's only a one year exemption and that there is going to be a study. Our use of HMOs for the management of public programs was only supposed to be a short "demonstration project" and there was going to be a study. The demonstration project has been going on for more nearly 25 years and a 1993 study was shelved after opposition from the HMOs (as the Star Tribune reported at the time on March 13, 1994/Human Services HMO study-shelved).  Once it's written into law, will the blanket HMO exemption also be rolled forward forever?

Now that the HMOs have succeeded in insulating themselves from public review in the Senate, it appears the House will follow suit on Monday with  amendments offered to placate their demands.  It seems strange that after an April 25th hearing of Joint House Committees{ HHS-Finance/Policy/Civil) that Minnesota House members felt there was no justification for a blanket exemption and now it seems they changed their minds.  What happened?   Will House members stand up to demand real transparency and accountability or will they sell out?

Related Post:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Trials and tribulations at the Legislature

I have been at the Minnesota Legislature for a long time influencing public policy.  I have been guided by my viewpoint what I think is important for civil liberties, privacy, and open government.  But life as a concerned citizen has not always been a bed of roses.  My satisfaction of getting laws and initiatives passed with which I have had a hand in has been quite satisfying.  Many of my actions for or against legislation will never affect me, but I know it will with others.  But the trial and tribulation one goes through is another story.

This year I have been called "sinister", questioned several times why I have an interest in pieces of legislation because I should not have an interest in, according to others; shouted in an angry way by the head of association because of a tweet I did promoting my take on a bill.  Even by a new director of an association a view I took on LPR legislation via twitter.  He did not like my tweet stated it was untrue.  I felt like saying in reply your background in public relations/media and what the hell do you know about license plate readers and the impact of them on people's rights and liberties.  Basically I wanted to say I know helluva lot more about it then you do.  But I was polite and just chalked it up as.........

But this is not new, as someone who has gained knowledge about the "dance of the legislators", gained awareness and mastery of privacy and open government from others, experience, and reading, I have knowledge and information to share with legislators.

And sometimes entrenched special interests, lobbyists, and even legislators get mad, teed of, and even damn in your face about it because I am an unpaid person who may sometimes upset their applecart to improve, modify or impinge, or eat their apples(legislation/proposal).

When I first started hanging around the legislature in the late seventies I was a person who took an interest in a bill or two, known a bit to testify once in a while, but mostly hung out, observing.  Gained insight to the dance of the legislators, by working with such people as Senators Randy Peterson and Gene Merriam. Who helped develop my astuteness of privacy was coming in contact with Don Gemberling in 1979 when I had a question about wanting to get access to my private data held by a government agency.

So I was on my way learning, observing, remembering, going to the law libraries to research legislation and court cases and by the early 80's had some knowledge. By the mid 80's I was being asked why are you doing this and who are you by others who hung around the Capitol because more than likely I was beginning to make a difference.

As time went on the trials and tribulations started, many I remember well.  My all time classic is by a top law official who snidely in his own humorous way stated basically we should have set you up in a bad situation and share it with legislators.  In other words, I was a stumbling block is his attempts to get legislation passed the way the agency wanted.  I shared with Senators what I thought the bill did and they had a special hearing on it.  The bill was passed, but a sunset was put on it for a year.  Policymakers and I came back the next session with measures to protect our privacy with accountability.

Another one is is the legislator who confronted me about pulling the "race card".  I was startled.  He had legislation that could have had in my judgement a disparate impact on community of colors.  I called the Council on Black Minnesotans about the bill who organized people and organizations to oppose aspects of it.  As I have stated before in previous posts many people sometimes do not know whats go on in the People's House.  I try to let them know.

I was asked by a legislator why I "shitcan" his bills. I said they were bad bills.  One I laughed at when an elected official did in public was when I came to a hearing and he knew I was going to testify against his bill, he would say......"Your mother is calling you".  Indirectly, saying leave my bill alone and leave the hearing room.

A recent one is the legislator who said I am not interested to listen what you have to say because you represent no one.  "You represent no group or organization, you are not my constituent" I said fine.  I think he was teed at me for the issues I raised about his bill which eventually did not become law the previous year.

I have learned the dance of the legislators well.  Bills that I see that are not good or good for privacy and open government sometimes I go to leadership, no matter what party, and share with them benefits, implications, traps, and pitfalls of a bill.  And going to the Chairs of Committees explaining in detail why a bill good is bad or good.  It is all part of the inside process I have learned.

But in the last analysis, this a place of human behavior and relationships.  I have apologized to a legislator or two over the years.  But the difference between the great many people who influence policy here at the Capitol and myself is that they are paid and are here full time and have have vast resources.  When they get the difficulty and anxiety about the legislative process they see it and feel it in a different way then I do.

I come with a tenacity, persistence, good information, and a passion for what I believe in, but it can be and is tiring.  Thanks to the great majority of legislators who are willing to listen to the public and me over the years.

By the way the person who called me "sinister" shook my hand yesterday maybe I am not so bad after all.