Recent content from James Eli Shiffer
E-mails, public records reveal what happened before Third Precinct was abandoned
Three days of rage culminated in the burning of the Third Precinct, an event unprecedented in modern American history.
Bookmark: An old book resonates in these modern times
In times like these, I find myself turning to literature to remind me that people haven’t changed that much in 300 years or so. In…
64 years later, neighbor of mystery girl in haunting photos introduces himself
The revival of Janet Lee Dahl's memory sparked a flurry of e-mails and phone calls. A former neighbor remembers her life and death.
Discarded photos reveal the haunting story of a Minnesota girl
More than 200 snapshots discovered in a California flea market trace the life of a Minnesota child.
On an accidental safari, a park in Uganda boasts a wealth of wildlife
During a surprise safari, Queen Elizabeth National Park offered up a host of sights.
Review: 'Dirty Doc Ames and the Scandal That Shook Minneapolis,' by Erik Rivenes
NONFICTION: Minneapolis Mayor "Doc" Ames was known for his visits to brothels, rigged poker games, and free-flowing booze.
UFOs and aliens thrive in the vacuum created by secrecy
Lack of government transparency plays a big role in propagating wild theories of alien landings and coverups.
Sexual harassment shielded by secrecy at Minnesota Capitol
The sexual harassment scandal has brought new attention to the different disclosure practices that apply to Minnesota institutions.
Minneapolis' posting of 'deleted' EPA pages is a bit overheated
One problem: The web pages in question are still on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's website. You can find them linked from the EPA home page.
Mille Lacs County sues feds to get FOIA response
And since November 2016, county officials have been waiting.
Opening the JFK files would have been a triumph of transparency. If only.
Instead it confirmed to the cynics and conspiracy theorists that the government can never come clean.
Trump White House confounds, confuses transparency advocates
Data purges and secrecy confounding transparency advocates.
Minnesota man appears in newly declassified JFK assassination files
A man living in Crystal in 1965 was repeatedly named as an FBI informant in the trove of documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy released by the National Archives on Thursday.
University of Minnesota's hunt for leaker was a $74K red herring
In May, the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota learned that another high-ranking athletic department employee had been placed on leave for misconduct. This was supposed to stay secret.
Two men sentenced for violating Minnesota's revenge-porn law
Michael Weigel and William Eldridge both had the same idea on how to inflict emotional pain on women in their lives. They created fake Facebook…
Once-secret CIA records reveal gift of ancient stone jar
Earlier this year, a researcher at Concordia University in St. Paul was combing through declassified CIA records and discovered an intriguing stone legacy of the…
A trip to Duluth proves City Hall isn't sinking under data requests
So back in July, when the Duluth city staff presented the idea of charging $35 an hour for any data request that takes more than 15 minutes, I decided to ask: How big a burden are these?
The fuzzy line between dissent and disruption, even for courts
Anyone doubting the power of protest should study the shutdown of the Minneapolis Board of Education meeting on Jan. 12. The board was poised to…
Former police chief's hush clause stymies a needed public debate
There's something so Minnesotan about the idea of nondisparagement.
Search for father's birth parents runs into bureaucratic tangle
What's the public interest in hiding a court record created 108 years ago?
Hotel room bust of high-end prostitute leads to $20,000 windfall for Minn. police
Adrienne Chapa was arrested and spent a few days in jail before she went home to Las Vegas. Her bag of $24,425 in cash was here to stay.
How Minnesota law prevents many adoptees from learning about their roots
Despite a nationwide movement to open up access to adoption records, Minnesota's laws place the privacy of birth parents ahead of the desire of adoptees to know their origins.
History of gas line accidents in Minnesota since 1998
Before Wednesday’s explosion at Minnehaha Academy, gas distribution lines have experienced at least 41 major accidents in Minnesota since 2004, federal data show. The most…
Archive specialist rescues Minnesota history, page by yellowed page
Charlie Rodgers’ business card carries his bone-dry title: “Government records specialist.” The reality is more like this: Exploring dank basements and forgotten storage areas; opening…
Minnesota veterans of the CIA's 'secret war' seek an honorable burial
A Brooklyn Park veteran of the CIA's "secret war" has been stymied by the federal government's refusal to hand over classified documents about its proxy army, or even acknowledge that they exist.
Painful as it could be, some files must be made public
Some fear this case could mark the end of Minnesota's laudable openness about how its law officers investigate crime.
Big ideas for open government fall short at Legislature
Transparency advocates had grand plans for improving public access to government information in Minnesota this legislative session. One proposal would have stopped the mass…
At U.S. State Department, ground rules for official anonymity
WASHINGTON – The weather was sweltering on the sidewalks of the U.S. Capitol last week, so the State Department officials walked outside the massive…
Inside one woman's fight to expose Minn. health care investigations
Sheila Van Pelt's yearslong campaign underscores the enormous challenges facing everyday citizens in an era when powerful interest groups push laws that ensure greater levels of secrecy.
Growing police tech arsenal watches criminals, citizens
Law enforcement agencies have more tools to gather information than ever before. Laws safeguarding that data and guaranteeing public access to it are failing to keep up.
Survivors of CIA's secret airline gather in Twin Cities to reminisce, organize
Officials still say they were not affiliated with U.S. government during the Vietnam War.
Newspaper's secrecy scoop of 1947 resonates today
The headline blared across the front page of the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. Big enough to stop a president: “U.S. CENSORSHIP PLAN REVEALED.” It was…
Minneapolis scrubs its records to hide site of Super Bowl command center
Mpls. scrubs info, leaving public in dark on landlord.
The final cache of secret JFK records set for release this year
Documents that show what the government knows about John F. Kennedy's 1963 trip to Dallas have been kept secret for more than 50 years. Now, these records are among the remaining sealed documents about the JFK assassination set for release in coming months.
Inside law enforcement's high-tech toolbox
New technologies are giving law enforcement in Minnesota and across the country broad access to data on criminals and everyday citizens alike.
Public left on the street after White House visitor logs go dark
Last week, the Secret Service banished pedestrians from the south side of the White House after too many unauthorized visitors managed to leap…
Minn. burglar found addresses of victims online before committing crimes
There are 14 situations in which it is legal to view someone else’s driver’s license and motor vehicle registration data. Finding homes to ransack isn’t…
Growing web of laws keeps Minnesotans in the dark
The state's public records law is riddled with hundreds of exceptions. Local governments and businesses are pushing to keep even more data secret.
Lawmakers propose limiting access to day care enforcement records
Providers want to protect reputations, but families want enforcement data.
Gov. Walker embraces government sunshine, but it's cloudy in Minnesota
Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of open government and the First Amendment, was heralded by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with a March 8 proclamation…
USDA removes animal welfare records from website
Dogs with sores on their paws and missing fur. Sick rabbits living in a trashy building. A kennel two degrees hotter than the 85-degree legal…
Details about Trump ban detainees are hard to pry loose
Amid the scenes of tearful reunions and airport protests that followed President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order on immigration, so much is still unknown…
Fading voice of an access advocate
When Minnesotans suspect their elected leaders or civil servants are hiding something, they can turn to a tiny state agency for help. The Information Policy…
Minnesota goes after leakers, too
In one of his last acts as president, Barack Obama commuted the sentence of a high-profile government whistleblower and pardoned another. Obama’s actions last…
Minnesota tussles over e-mail, and so does everywhere else
“Is e-mail a public document that needs to be preserved?” That question appears in an April 1994 edition of the Star Tribune. A generation and…
Hennepin County judge: Body-cam footage is off-limits to public
Ivy Bernhardson, the chief judge in Hennepin County, laid down the rules in December on how prosecutors and defense attorneys should handle video footage from…
Feds processing 51 new grape varietals for wine; two are Minnesota made
At least two made-in-Minnesota, cold-weather-tolerant grapes made the cut: Petite Pearl and Chisago.
State agency calls anti-fraud law a 'nightmare waiting to happen'
The fraud-fighting strategy was supposed to work like this: Someone walks into a money-wiring business asking to send a large amount of cash overseas. The…
U.S. House hearing finds federal government overdosing on secrecy
The number of new classified records fell to a record low in 2014, before rising somewhat last year.
Creepy but legal: 'Voter shaming' letters showed up in Minnetonka mailbox
The letter arrived at the Guetschow house before Election Day.It included the names and addresses of three of their neighbors in Minnetonka, and a chart…
State gives St. Paul school board blessing for secret meetings
The members of the St. Paul school board realized they had a problem, starting with themselves. So as they search for a new superintendent to…
Hopes, fears for transparency in Trump White House
Given that Donald Trump has described journalists as “scum,” “sleaze” and “horrible people,” it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the president-elect refrained from inviting the…
Shiffer: Ex-nursing student suffers legal setback over Facebook posts
It’s a weird coincidence. Two major First Amendment rulings centered on Facebook rants by university students about plunging sharp objects into other people. And in…
Minneapolis shines a (partial) light on police misconduct
The mayor called it “exciting” and “an important day for the city of Minneapolis.” The civil rights director said it fulfilled a promise made four…
E-mail policy in Gov. Dayton's office? Delete them at will
The policy of the office calls for keeping only those e-mail messages that are "records of official transactions." Everything outside of that narrow category can be deleted at will.
Signs can go wild during election season
If you were waiting to put up 50-foot billboards in your yard proclaiming the imminent arrival of extraterrestrials, your moment has arrived. Election season means…
Months after Jamar Clark case closed, FBI still won't cough up its file
Show us the files. That’s what the Star Tribune said to the FBI immediately after U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced that no federal charges would…
Shame on Congress if it grants even more secrecy to Pentagon
An inspector general report at the Pentagon concluded in 2013 that its computer systems were dangerously vulnerable to hackers. At least 49 large military drones…
Paper trail is a cornerstone of state's election integrity
As more and more of our world goes digital, what important system relies on paper records any more? Democracy, for one. The heart of Minnesota’s…
Twin Cities man loses iPad, gains $520 in 'movie money'
What happened to Anthony Darst was a sorry mix of robbery and fraud. Someone ran off with his iPad, and left him holding an envelope…
Transparency takes center stage in campaign for White House
The last time the White House put out a vacancy sign, both major party presidential candidates talked about transparency so much you’d think they…
Set up to keep leash on spies, U.S.'s most secret court has lost its way
You can be forgiven if you've never heard of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It's America's most secretive court, and it convenes behind closed, guarded doors in a federal courthouse in Washington.
Concerned about bad PR, Vadnais Heights keeps $12,000 audit confidential
In an interview Friday, the mayor said that he had never seen the audit but that he nevertheless is convinced there's nothing new in it.
Mug shot sleaze doesn't justify keeping them secret
The mug shot is the star of the voyeur’s internet. Any web search turns up thousands of images of people booked and photographed by police,…
Minneapolis photo trove found in garage sparks hunt for IDs
On Tuesday, the Hosmer Library is inviting the public to visit between 10 a.m. and noon to view the pictures and help identify who's in them.
Eco-radical punished twice for his jailhouse writings
Daniel McGowan was returning to his cell in the Sandstone, Minn., federal prison when he learned he was shipping out. At first he didn’t know…
Congress modernizes Freedom of Information Act
Last week, Congress sent the White House a bill to revamp the Freedom of Information Act for the 21st century. In a bitterly divided Washington, support for the bill united Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Rep. Darrell Issa of California with Democrats such as Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
Living in downtown Minneapolis was badge of shame in days of Skid Row
Through the early 1960s, the heart of Minneapolis was home to nearly 2,500 men who lived in some of the city's oldest and most decrepit buildings.
Body camera video: In Minnesota, for police eyes only
Police across the nation are going Hollywood, but in Minnesota, don’t expect to get invited to a screening any time soon. A bill setting policy…
After federal data breach, red tape snarls victim's search for answers
In order to work on a U.S. Department of Energy contract, Joe Stoebner had to obtain top-secret, Q-level security clearance. If he or anyone in…
The fight against 'revenge porn'
Three Gopher basketball players were benched for the rest of the season last week because a video of a sex act, featuring at least one…
Phishing scam pits Intuit against St. Paul's Cadenza Music
The collection letter sent to Cadenza Music in St. Paul resembled what shows up in your mailbox when you forget to pay a phone or…
Minnesota attorney general appeals to Google to stop deceptive locksmith ads
In the latest chapter of “seeing isn’t believing,” brought to you by Google, meet your “local locksmith.” That’s what plenty of Twin Cities residents thought…
Salt shaker emoji sparks a menu fight over free speech
These days, you can always spot emojis on the menu. A hot pepper warns you of a spice hazard. A leafy sprout heralds a vegetarian…
Hunting mishap in Meeker County clouded by secrecy
Dale Fenrich keeps a shotgun slug on the desk of his insurance office in Litchfield, Minn. It's the one doctors took out of his upper leg after a hunting accident last fall, in which a friend shot him with a 12-gauge round intended for a deer.