ADVERTISEMENT

Police favor changes in data laws to shield intelligence information

  • Article by: BRAD SCHRADE
  • Star Tribune
  • January 23, 2012 - 8:19 PM

State law-enforcement officials plan to ask the Legislature this year for the right to collect intelligence information on suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals without having to disclose who they are monitoring or why.

The proposal drew sharp warnings from public-records and transparency advocates on Monday at a meeting where a variety of changes to state data-practice laws were discussed. A chief concern expressed by opponents is the potential for abuse of data collected secretly on citizens.

The head of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Dave Pecchia, said the proposal to withhold such information from public view is essential to ensuring public safety. He said Minnesota is one of two states without such a classification for certain sensitive law-enforcement information. Agencies outside Minnesota are reluctant to share intelligence data with police here because it could become public under current state law, Pecchia said.

"We want to get it on the table so we can have this discussion at the state Legislature," Pecchia said. "Take care of any misconceptions about what police are going to do with the data ... We understand there is a concern, but the benefit will outweigh the concern."

Don Gemberling, an open-government expert with the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI), said similar proposals have been opposed in the past because of concerns about accuracy and privacy. He said other proposals have mirrored federal law, which, he said, favors law enforcement, has weak auditing standards and sacrifices citizens' right to know what information is being collected on them.

"It's just not right for people to be making decisions about us on bad information, based on secret information," Gemberling said.

The proposal was discussed at a MNCOGI meeting at the Capitol where a variety of proposals for changing the state's data-practices law were discussed. No bill has been filed, Pecchia said, who did not have specific details about the proposal.

MNCOGI is a nonprofit group that promotes public access to government information and transparency. Its members include librarians and media organizations, including the Star Tribune.

Brad Schrade • 612-673-4777

© 2014 Star Tribune