Emerging privacy concerns brings call for new commission

Matt Elhing from the Coalition for Government Information testifies on Rep. Mary Liz Holberg’s bill HF2120, which would establish a Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)

During her 16 years as a House member, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville) has committed herself to data practices. She announced recently that she will not be seeking re-election, so in what could seemingly be one of her last bills as a state representative, she seeks to create a legislative commission that would develop more expertise on data practices within members of the House and Senate.

“We are behind many states when it comes to data practices,” she said. “Technology is far outpacing our ability to keep up. As soon as you get a policy in place addressing a certain technology, there’s going to be a new one to deal with.”

Over the last couple of sessions, she said it seems that there hasn’t been enough time spent on very complex issues. The only way to have good public policy is to spend the time necessary to learn about the issues and the ramifications.

In evaluating how to create the commission, Holberg looked at two models, one that would contain only legislators; the other being similar to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which consists of the public and legislators. “Maybe, eventually we’ll get to something like that,” she said. “But as a first step, we wanted to do something that was manageable for this session with the sole purpose of developing more experts here in the body.”

On Wednesday, HF2120, sponsored by Holberg, was heard in the House Government Operations Committee. The bill would create the Legislative Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy to study issues relating to government data practices and would consist of 10 members — five senators and five House members, with no more than three majority members per chamber.

The bill now moves to the House Civil Law Committee.

Committee members said they respected and were grateful for the work Holberg has done in regard to data practices.

“We all respect you and that you have done so much with data privacy issues, but why can’t we deal with this through a subcommittee?” Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) asked. She added that she wasn’t fond of growing government and asked why another committee was needed.

“I agree about growing government. I’d generally be right there with you,” Holberg said. “But the issues here are compounding around themselves. This takes much more time and attention than we have in this fast-paced environment.”

Mark Anfinson, representing the Minnesota Newspaper Association, gave his support to the bill.

“Balancing values in privacy is wickedly difficult,” he said. “Information defines us more than the power we have to control it. People can now define you in ways you have no control over.”

The Senate companion, SF2066, sponsored by Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls), awaits a hearing by the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

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Lee Ann Schutz Wahi

Lee Ann Wahi blogs at B-Ville News, "because telling Burnsville’s stories enriches my life."