Keep law enforcement in check


Over the years at the Minnesota Legislature in my advocacy of open government and privacy a by product of that has been to keep power in check. Whether it be government power or private institutional power.

An aspect of power that I have drifted to more than others to keep in check has been the power of law enforcement. Ever since I was a youngster being raised in McDonough Housing Projects or in the Frogtown neighborhood of St Paul it became clear in my diverse community the difference how you are treated by police based on the color of one’s skin.

Being raised in the sixties does have an impact on you when the television is inundated with police and barking dogs towards people who are fighting for their rights. As I became more aware as to who I am and learned things I became to realize there are good cops and bad cops, but understood when they told you to stop, you stopped, they had power.

As I spoke with a public attorney of a law enforcement agency this morning on being denied government data on the accountability of how cops use cell phone trackers, I was guided by my focus of keeping power in check. I stated to the attorney that there should be data that is public on how cops use this device. I stated a number of items that should be accessible to the public.

Why I push after being denied access to government data (this situation) is because I need to know if agencies such as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office who have and use the Kingfish (intercept cell signals to find the phone’s location) are abusing our rights with their power.

I want to know if there is supervision and accountability with the use of this equipment, is it done with a search warrant, or is it being used in a way with no accountability or transparency? In what situations is this “secret” device used for? These are just a number of questions I would like to have answered.

Over the past year I been doing numerous data practice requests of numerous law enforcement agencies. The requests range from polices and procedures on how cops download your cell/smart phone and with what authority to the use of administrative subpoenas. I have read thousands of detail of public government data that deal with law enforcement. I read substance that disturbs me and I ask the question are our rights and privacy being violated or compromised.

Several weeks ago I spoke with a law enforcement official. We were talking about his agency. The person indicated the direction the agency may go in some of its duties and could have a meeting in the future about it. The topic was one I thought could have an impact on rights and liberties. I said I would be interested in that. What was stated straight back to me, “It’s none of your business.” I then said, directly back, “It’s the public business.”

Now this reaction by some law enforcement officials in this state is not new. I have interacted and dealt with it for decades. But I have and still continue to ask the questions, read the data/documents, and keep law enforcement in check, but it is important that others do the same.

Don Gemberling, who for decades was the state’s top data practices person and still active as a private individual who lobbies the Minnesota Legislature recently said to me when we were talking about the power of law enforcement and the public role in checking that power:

“Within the mainstream of the history of American political thinking in this country, keeping a check on law enforcement is why we have the Constitution.”