New technologies clash with right to privacy

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With little oversight and minimal regulation, cell phones and other electronic devices have the ability to track and collect information to a degree that one legislator called the “Wild West.”

Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) raised his concerns during Tuesday’s House Civil Law Committee oversight hearing regarding law enforcement’s use of surveillance technologies and individuals’ rights to privacy.

Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chair, said he called the meeting in response to concerns over the last legislative session’s inability to respond to concerns over license plate reader data collection by the City of Minneapolis in 2012. He said public interest in data issues continued with the National Security Agency disclosures by Edward Snowden on government surveillance of private citizens.

“When government uses technology with respect to citizens, though, we need to make sure that it follows certain parameters,” he said.

No action was taken at the meeting; however, Lesch said he expects several committee hearings during the upcoming session on issues raised at the meeting.

The state’s top law enforcement personnel were invited to address three issues at the meeting: Use, collection and retention of cell phone records, license plate readers and whether drones were being used for surveillance.

A national privacy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union, Catherine Crump, said that courts have been slow to react to the privacy protections offered by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as it relates to technological advances. Saying it may be up to legislatures to act, she challenged the committee to be forward thinking.

Her comments drew response from one of the Legislature’s leading data practices advocates, Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville). “It is very obvious to me that Minnesota is way behind in implementing legislation regulating this,” she said.

Public Safety Commissioner Ramona Dohman came under intense questioning from Holberg about reported data breaches involving state agency personnel, including review of driver’s license information and how the department handles the issue as it relates to the state’s data practices act. Holberg questioned whether new protection procedures have been implemented as well as calling for more checks and balances.

“The tools that we use in law enforcement are critical to saving lives but we need to balance that with the privacy rights of Minnesotans,” Dohman said.