On April 27th, a letter from MNCOGI’s Gary Hill about police body camera data ran in the Star Tribune newspaper. Find the link here. The text is below.
The public needs to fully understand the debate over body camera policy
Body-worn police cameras are being used more and more frequently, and legislators are currently grappling with how to classify “body cam” data in order to determine what should be public or private.
The debate over body camera policy has become needlessly complicated because some policy advocates are seeking legislative action without a comprehensive understanding of the status of body camera video under existing law.
For instance, the Coalition for Battered Women recently urged the Legislature to declare nearly all body cam data off-limits to the public, saying secrecy is needed to protect the privacy of victims of sexual assault. Police unions also have cited crime victims in arguing for broad restrictions on public access to body cam data. But much data — including video recordings — on victims of sexual assault or other crimes are private under existing state law.
Closing off public access to most body camera data is unnecessary to protect victim privacy, and would have the effect of hiding video related to police accountability. Controversies over recent shootings by law enforcement underscore the need for better documentation of police response, and body cameras are seen as a way to do so. But the cameras’ potential will never be realized if the public is barred from viewing the video.
MNCOGI and board member Don Gemberling have been featured in recent Minnesota news coverage. On November 11th, Minnpost ran a piece on data privacy issues, and Don Gemberling made an appearance in a recent Almanac broadcast about lawsuits stemming from drivers license data breaches.
Non-Minnesota police entities prepare and disseminate “threat assessment” and other “criminal intelligence” information to Minnesota law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and its component MNJAC (the Minnesota Joint Analysis Center). Such data are often utilized in support of crime and terrorism prevention, and can consist of reports on individuals or groups who are believed to pose a threat to public safety.
The classification of this type of data in Minnesota has been in dispute for some time, as some of it does not fit neatly within the existing law enforcement data sections of Chapter 13. In addition, certain non-Minnesota law enforcement entities have reportedly been hesitant to share some of this data with Minnesota agencies, expressing concerns that the data might become public under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Civil libertarians and political activists have also raised questions about the content of some criminal intelligence data. They have expressed concerns that the inappropriate use of such data could have a chilling effect on the constitutionally protected activities of individuals or political organizations. Since 2009, three bills addressing criminal intelligence data have been introduced in the Minnesota legislature, but none have passed.
Recently, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) approached MNCOGI about working together to craft a narrow bill that addressed state-to-state “traveling” data – including criminal intelligence data – while setting aside any larger discussions about criminal intelligence data generated by Minnesota agencies until another time. MNCOGI has agreed to prepare the first draft of a bill that would address data coming into Minnesota from law enforcement entities in other states. Formal talks began earlier this month, and are ongoing.
Efforts at crafting criminal intelligence bills require multiple stakeholders. The traveling data discussion will solict input from all parties as it moves forward. MNCOGI is also presenting updates about this process on its blog. Find the minutes of the first meeting between MNCOGI and MCPA representatives here, and watch this space for more updates.
By James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, and brand-new COGI board member
Nine months after he arrived to run a 300-employee department for the city of Minneapolis, Gregory Stubbs abruptly quit. The City Council gave him $65,000 and gave the public no explanation.
The Star Tribune reporters who cover Minneapolis thought they had an easy way to find out why Stubbs left. They sent a public records request to the city invoking a new provision of the Data Practices Act designed to shed light on the departure of “public officials” who leave in the midst of scandal. The law had been changed following outrage over the pricy and unexplained severance package given to a school official in Burnsville.
But the city of Minneapolis had a surprising response: the city’s director of regulatory services isn’t a public official, as defined by the law. The Star Tribune went to IPAD for an opinion, and the agency agreed with the city. As it turns out, the law was drafted in such a way that it excluded most of Minneapolis’ top officials, including the police and fire chiefs. Reporter Eric Roper turned that situation to his advantage, writing a story about the loophole and getting a key lawmaker on the record that it would be changed.
The Legislature followed through this year by broadening the definition of “public official” to eliminate any doubt that it covered Minnesota’s largest city. In an era when lawmakers are making more and more exemptions to the Data Practices Act, this was one significant advance for the public’s right to know.
It took weeks before the Stubbs documents arrived at the Star Tribune. They were heavily redacted, but they documented the sex discrimination and ethics complaints that preceded Stubbs’ departure. On Aug. 23, nearly a year after we first asked for the records, the Star Tribune published the story on the metro cover.
I learned several lessons from this journey: Read the law. Hold lawmakers accountable for their pledge of openness. Keep up the pressure on governments to release records. And when you get the records, publish a story. It lets everybody know we mean business.
On February 5th, the House Data Practices subcommittee reviewed several of the Open Meeting Law and Data Practices provisions of HF 5, the House version of the enabling legislation for the Minnesota Health Care Exchange.
Several days earlier, during a February 1st public hearing, the language of the bill drew criticism over a lack of specificity regarding data protections and/or data sharing. During that hearing, MNCOGI Board Member Don Gemberling testified about issues in the bill’s data provisions, and offered assistance to the Data Practices subcommittee to rework the language.
Rich Neumeister’s Open Secrets blog has a summary of recent activity with the bill.
The Civil Law Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives will hear testimony related to HF 20, Representative Freiberg’s bill relating to e-mail addresses submitted to governmental entities for “notification or informational purposes.” HF 20 would make such data “private data on individuals.” Currently, such data is public.
The committee hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:15am in the basement hearing room of the State Office Building.
SF No. 43 – The bill would amend Chapter 13 so that “Government data of a political subdivision on requests for notices of services or activities of a political subdivision” would be “private data on individuals or nonpublic data.”
SF No. 60 – The bill is the Senate companion to HF No. 20. The bill proposes to keep e-mail addresses submitted to government entities “not public.”