Sunday, March 20, 2016

Hennepin County Sheriff watching us from afar with drones?

It was not the public that got the first chance to see a drone being flown under the auspices of the Hennepin County Sheriff last Thursday. (March 17, 2016)  But a number of specially invited people including policymakers.  A legislator confirmed being invited, but did not attend because "too busy" at the Capitol.

The acquisition of a drone by the state's largest populated county raises issues that the public has a right to weigh in on.  For example, the broad expansion of surveillance of individuals that greatly increases what "plain view" and public visibility means.

Does the Sheriff' have rules and policies for his own, leased or possible drones?  If Hennepin County Sheriff has policies are they like swiss-cheese with holes that allows for exploitation of these unmanned aerial vehicles with our privacy rights and civil liberties?  Did the Sheriff get the drones with own appropriated dollars from the County specifically approved by elected Commissioner's?  Homeland Security grant?  Or a deal with a vendor for free or low cost?

With no state law on the books yet for drones, will the Sheriff and supposedly other law enforcement agencies who may have them in Minnesota get search warrants?  What is the role of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and authorization which were just recently released?

Under leadership of Sheriff Stanek, (also BCA) there has been past purchases of sophisticated technology such as the KingFish (cell-phone surveillance device) which can and has compromised individual privacy rights. One reason for law change by the Minnesota Legislature in 2014.

Special invitees got notice about Sheriff Stanek's new tech toy, but no member of the media or public. It was clearly emphasized by the Sheriff, no media or public were to be allowed   This is not unusual behavior of law enforcement.  I know because of decades of experience in trying to get data from law enforcement to bring sunshine to their activities.  My most recent long fight was with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on the Stingray.  If law enforcement does not have to tell the public on these kind of matters, they won't.

The behavior of the Hennepin County Sheriff on this issue and other government entities who may be doing the same, absolutely, sending a message to the public, you have no right to know!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Preparing for FOIA birthday

Today I will be interviewed to give my viewpoint about "Freedom of Information." (FOIA)  The interview is part of a film that is being done in celebration of the Federal Freedom of Information law which will celebrate it's 50th birthday on July 4, 2016.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the bill with some reservations.  He made that clear in a formal message attached to the bill:

"This bill in no way impairs the President's power under our Constitution to provide the confidentiality when the national interest so requires.  There are some who have expressed concerns that the language of this bill will be construed in such a way as to impair Government operations.  I do not share that concern.

I agree with LBJ, FOIA has been an important tool to keep government accountable and scrutinized without damage.  The government is still here.

President Lyndon B. Johnson is pictured. | AP Photo

1966: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
 AP Photo 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What's Minneapolis position on the body cam bills at Legislature?

Minneapolis is a key player with their influence at the Legislature.  Where they stand on the various bills going through the Legislature - for strong transparency and accountability for the public or very limited transparency and accountability for the public.  Are the elected officials speaking or the law enforcement officials of Minneapolis?

I sent this email to City Council members.  I was only able to find four email addresses out of the 13 Council members.

"My name is Rich Neumeister.  I 've been in the forefront of many privacy and open government issues for nearly 4 decades at the Minnesota Legislature.  I am a citizen who lobbies for no money.  My public record what I have done speaks for itself.

I want to encourage you to take interest on what is happening at the Legislature on the issue of body cameras. Being the state's largest City you will have the most body cameras appendaged to officers gathering "government data" (videos).  Many policymakers in your City have stated that you are interested to develop trust with communities in Minneapolis with the police department in using the powerful tool of body cameras.

Even Mayor Hodges stated: "I am proud to support body cameras for all officers: they are an essential tool for holding officers accountable for their behavior, making corrections when necessary, and building community trust, for police officers have the potential to increase public trust in law enforcement, reduce the risk that citizens will not be victims of excessive force and protect officers from unfounded accusations of abuse."

But these goals - which the Mayor has announced and which many in law enforcement and in the political arena support  - are being squelched by special interests or even by the same parties who say they support "transparency and accountability" at the Minnesota Legislature.

There are three bills on the issue that 3 legislators Rep. Scott, Rep. Cornish, and Senator Latz are involved with. Good article in the Pioneer Press today, on those bills and related issues.

So what is Minneapolis's position on these bills?  Specifics?  The Latz/Cornish bills downgrade accountability and transparency.  As top cop lobbyist, Mr. Flaherty states in public testimony last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the use of body cameras is a "new paradigm" which can make officers "more accountable and transparent to the public we serve." but in the same testimony he states "making data public really serves no public purpose."  He and his organization, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, support the Latz/Cornish versions of the body camera bill with very little transparency which then allows "hollow" public accountability.  The Minnesota Police Chiefs Association is basically of same persuasion.

I encourage you as policymakers to speak out on what the City's position through your lobbyists on this important issue.

It is my intent to make sure that if body cameras are to be used by Minnesota law enforcement, they are not a front for accountability which would create more distrust, and continue the legacy of decades of "tension and hostility" in the communities where law enforcement officers serve.  I hearten you to do the same. There are grievances because of abrasive/abusive practices and behavior, "further aggravated by the lack of effective mechanism" to deal with complaints against law enforcement.  Body cameras are being proposed to be an effective mechanism for oversight.

But oversight will be hollow and vacant if the laws that regulate the power of this law enforcement tool do not provide real transparency.

I also support a consent provision which allows people to say no in being filmed in their home, which is the very core of the Fourth Amendments protections in non-emergency situations

Any questions, contact me."

Rich Neumeister