The Whistleblower blog was started in 2008. Look for posts by these contributors: James Eli Shiffer, Jane Friedmann, Brandon Stahl, Eric Roper and Alejandra Matos. | Check out the Whistleblower archive.

Find us on Facebook and Twitter. Find our watchdog and investigative work at The Investigators.

The Star Tribune's journalists need your help blowing the whistle in Minnesota. Contact us here.

Posts about Civil liberties

Appeals still putting guns into questionable Minnesota hands

Posted by: Brandon Stahl Updated: March 1, 2013 - 3:47 PM

Last year, 38 Minnesotans successfully appealed their denial or revocation of a permit to carry a handgun. This is despite some of them being denied permits for reasons such as having active orders for protection filed against them, histories of drug crimes or assaults, or numerous arrests.

That's according to the 2012 permit to carry report released today by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Thanks to the BCA providing the Star Tribune some of the information early, we've already reported on permits issued last year (a record 31,657), and the number of crimes by permit holders and justifiable uses reported, (though we now know those numbers are too low). And we did a story on permit applicants who were initially denied, only to get those permits on appeal up to 2011.

What we didn't have was the 2012 appeal information until today, which shows that last year of the 252 applicants initially denied, 61 of those appealed. Of those, about 62 percent were successful. Some of those permit holders were initially denied for reasons like:

  • "2008 and 2009 domestic assault arrests. Police reports state you said you were going to kill the victim and the children and that you didn't care if there was a no contact order, you would go back to the address."
  • "Pattern of drug use documented through contacts with law enforcement."
  • "Numerous arrests and convictions including assault, disorderly conduct, theft, receiving and concealing property, giving police officer false information show pattern of poor decision making and lack of good judgement."
  • "History of anger management issues including threatening to kill an employer and domestic assault."

While the permit-to-carry statute requires sheriffs departments to report denial reasons, it doesn't require providing information on why an appeal was successful. The reports also don't provide the name of any permit applicant, which is protected by state law. Since 2003, 337 applicants have successfully appealed their denial, seeing about a 50 percent success rate.

Click here for a sortable database of all of the permit to carry denials and appeals since 2003, collected from the BCA reports.

Lawyers aim to cash in on data privacy breach

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: January 25, 2013 - 11:58 AM

The rush is on to cash in on last week's revelation of a data breach by a now-former employee of the Department of Natural Resources.

A Washington County man, Jeffrey Ness, filed suit Wednesday against state officials and agencies after learning he was one of 5,000 people whose drivers license data was breached by an unnamed DNR employee. The suit, first reported by the Associated Press, seeks class-action status.

Meanwhile, an attorney in Mankato is reaching out to victims asking if they would like to make a claim. The firm, Farrish Johnson, is already pursuing a class action suit against a former Rock County employee for DVS misuse.

A Star Tribune reporter received a letter in the mail from attorney Scott Kelly with Farrish Johnson. It notes that records from the state indicate that misuse of drivers records is "rampant."

"We are looking at other agencies including the DNR where abuses occured," the letter says. "If you are interested in pursuing a claim or would like information about your rights, please feel free to contact me."

In the Rock County case, the firm found some of its 24 plaintiffs by placing an ad in the local newspaper. Kelly said Friday that they only sent letters to two people in relation to the DNR case.

After reviewing state records and filing open records requests, he believes that a minimum of 18,000 drivers records have been breached over the last three years. "Our intent is that if the Department of Public Safety and these agencies can’t control it, that we will do whatever we can to enforce the law," Kelly said.

Litigation has suddenly become rampant in breach cases involving drivers license records, ever since former St. Paul cop Anne Marie Rasmusson garnered more than $1 million in settlements from local governments after alleging DVS misuse.

That's partly because federal statutes say a court can award minimum damages of $2,500 per violation.

Not all the cases are against government entities. A Coon Rapids school bus driver is suing Capitol One Bank and a reposession company related to a breach of drivers licence records that occured in April 2012. That case is still being reviewed for possible criminal charges

Journalists' vehicle data improperly accessed

Posted by: Jane Friedmann Updated: January 21, 2013 - 9:39 AM

Updated 2:11 p.m.

By Eric Roper

It's now fairly clear that journalists comprised several of the victims in Tuesday's data breach involving thousands of drivers license records.

The Department of Natural Resources is alerting 5,000 people that their data was innappropriately accessed by an employee who is now no longer with the agency. Star Tribune political reporter Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, higher education reporter Jenna Ross and whistleblower reporter Jane Friedmann were among those who received a data breach letter.

The letter, which came from the Department of Natural Resources, discloses the breach but offers little details about motives or the employee's name. The agency said Wednesday it could not release the complaint against the employee until there is a "final disposition" in the case (explanation here at Subd. 2 (b)), which likely means the employee is challenging the action.

Other journalists whose data was breached include Associated Press political reporter Brian Bakst, freelance writer Laura Billings (according to her husband), Pioneer Press reporter Emily Gurnon and Fox 9 reporter Dawn Mitchell.

KARE-11 reporter Jana Shortal and MSP Mag senior editor Dara Grumdahl said Friday afternoon that they also received a data breach letter.

The state's drivers license database is protected by state and federal law against access without a legal purpose.

Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report. 

Photographer hassled at Minneapolis Fed

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: May 9, 2011 - 12:17 PM


T.S. Bye's offending photo

T.S. Bye's offending photo


If you point a camera at a building where millions of dollars are stored, prepare for questions.

On Thursday, T.S. Bye used his camera phone to take a picture of the big seal on the Federal Reserve in downtown Minneapolis. He was confronted by a security guard who questioned him and asked him to delete his photos. He did so, although his phone backed up the photo instantly.

Bye estimated he had stopped for 15-20 seconds before he was approached, and it was five minutes before he was allowed to leave.

Bye felt he was treated like a “suspected terrorist.”

"Courts have ruled over and over again that taking pictures of buildings from public spaces is perfectly legal, even federal buildings," Bye said.

Fed spokeswoman Patti Lorenzen said the photographer aroused suspicion by stopping his car in the street, getting out and taking photos. According to Lorenzen:

Our Law Enforcement staff asked what he was doing. He informed us he was taking photos of the Bank seal. Initially, our Law Enforcement officer told him that he was in a secure area and that we would prefer that he delete the photos. When the second Law Enforcement officer arrived on the scene, he informed this individual that he did not have to delete the photos and all we really needed him to do was move his vehicle to an appropriate parking space. The individual then drove away.

“It is not against our policy to take photos of the exterior of our building,” Lorenzen said.

When have you been hassled for taking pictures?

Discrimination complaints lead to Delta fine

Posted by: Updated: February 18, 2011 - 10:17 AM


Photo by Glen Stubbe

Photo by Glen Stubbe


Two weeks after Whistleblower wrote about a White Bear Lake woman who was kicked off a Delta flight because of her medical equipment, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a record fine of $2 million against the airline for widespread problems with its treatment of disabled passengers. The federal agency said thousands of people had complained over a two-year period and a substantial number of the violations were "egregious".

Without admitting to the violations, Delta agreed to the fine - the largest ever assessed against an airline in a case not involving safety violations. Most of the money will be redirected to improvements meant to improve the experience of passengers with disabilities, including an automated wheelchair tracking system, a customer satisfaction survey and better compliance auditing.


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters