Saturday, December 6, 2014

Minnesota BCA gets "F" for chicanery on Stingray

Anyone who involves themselves in the study of government knows an endearing principle of it.  There must be trust between it (government) and the people or individual.  Many of us strive for that on the local, state, and Federal level.  But when the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension does the kind of behavior exposed by the Star Tribune today which is dark and noxious, the public and Legislature need to step in and ask questions and get answers.

If one reviews the record of the Star Tribune's and my interactions with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (Division within DPS) in using the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act over the past 15 months to get access to documents such as the contract between the Harris Corporation and DPS, it is indisputable, the tricks and antics the Department of Public Safety did to stifle access to public information.  This is shameful and does not stand to what sound and open government is all about.

First, if one looks closely at the date of the contract the BCA dumped on late Friday afternoon you will notice the contract with the Harris Corporation is dated August 18, 2014.  "On June 18, 2014, Star Tribune reporter James Shiffer emailed DPS Commissioner Ramona Dohman, requesting access to (1) the Department's contracts related to "Stingray II" and "Kingfish" cellular exploitation equipment and (2) non-disclosure agreements ("NDAs") related to that equipment."  Mr. Shiffer did not get the contract or contracts dated previously to June 18, 2014.  Why?  Where are the old contracts?

Another example, in response to my requests to review and inspect Stingray and Kingfish contract data which I had done 3 times since September of last year. I got this from the BCA, dated February 14, 2014:

"we explained that the data is considered both deliberative process data under Minn. Stat. §13.82, Subd. 25 as disclosure would reveal information regarding investigative techniques that would compromise ongoing and future criminal investigations.  In addition, we previously noted that the data was also trade secret information pursuant to Minn. Stat. §13.37, Subd. 1(b). We continue to classify this contract under these two statutes and the contract cannot be released as such."

With Mr. Shiffer, they use the same identical arguments in an email sent to him by Bruce Gordon, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety to deny him the contract and non-disclosure agreement.

When one assesses the contract it is very clear that the whole document is neither a trade secret nor information that would compromise on-going and future criminal investigations.

To further the point of BCA's misguided behavior, when the Star Tribune asked the Commissioner of Administration to rule on the Department of Public Safety's (BCA) behavior, the Department argued that the:

"The documents were withheld in their entirety due to the fact that heavy redaction of the documents was so intertwined with the public data that we were unable to separate the public from the protected data in a meaningful manner."

What kind of babble and mumbo jumbo is this from the leaders of the Department of Public Safety and BCA?  When one reviews both documents, the FBI/BCA agreement and Harris Corporation contract, one cannot take this argument seriously.

When one evaluates the entire process of the Star Tribune's and my experience in trying to get public data from the BCA on this matter it is pure "mental stress or discomfort experienced" by BCA and DPS "who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values." (cognitive dissonance).  The issue is to what beliefs, ideas, or values are the people who head the agency and the division (BCA) to hold.  Their own or the public's.

The FBI agreement raises a number of issues and questions to be asked specifically of the appropriate people in an open hearing held by the suitable committees of the Minnesota Legislature.  Is the signing of the agreement by the BCA a violation of state law?  Forwarding information on a legal request for public information to the federal government?  Are there situations where defendants Fourth Amendment rights or innocent Minnesotans privacy or liberties been compromised as it appears has happened in other states with such devices as the Stingray?  Have individuals been mislead because of the FBI/BCA agreement?

This section of the FBI agreement is troubling among others:

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Department of Public Safety's conduct and actions need scrutiny in an open and public hearing.  To make them accountable for the behavior they have exhibited in efforts to suffocate elected public officials, the Minnesota Legislature, and public inquiries how a law enforcement agency spends public $$$ on tools that compromises our liberty and privacy.


Below are links to documents the reader of this post may have an interest in:

The Department of Public Safety's response to Commissioner of Administration on Star Tribune's request for an opinion:

The Star Tribune's request for the Commissioner of Administration to issue an opinion to make BCA release requested documents:

The BCA documents with the Harris Corporation and the FBI:

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