Open government vs. privacy: What does it all mean, then and now?


Since I have been doing this “gig” of involvement with privacy and open government issues I have tried to take each issue or situation, one at a time, and try to balance those two interests. Sometimes I succeed, others I do not.

But I have noticed over the past few years I am more on the open government side than the privacy side when it comes to government. This was illustrated to me just today as I was finally “purging” hundreds of pages of legislative “stuff”.

I ran across a proposal by Rep. Carruthers, now a judge in Hennepin County. In 1992, he proposed legislation that would open up the conviction records to the public held by the BCA. The BCA was the sole central repository for conviction records for the State of Minnesota. It was classified as private because of impact of a central database could have on people’s lives. This issue was explored in the FBI v Reporters Committee, Supreme Court case in 1989.

I was ready for the proposal and worked real hard against it. One of my big points was that the State of Minnesota would be putting out 270,000 names of people in public and could have a privacy impact on them. What came out of the session that year was the famous compromise of “computers” to be set up for the public to view public conviction data at the BCA HQ in St Paul.

Well time went on until the last couple of years of Sen Neuville’s tenure. There was discussion by the BCA to put conviction data on the Internet and charge for it. When I heard about this I had some concerns, but those concerns were being driven by the open government side of me.

Why should the State be charging the public to view data that the public at this time was know paying private companies for who more than likely got it from the BCA. Cannot remember specifically, how I hooked up with Sen. Neuville, now Judge, on this one, but we worked together to produce language along with others in Senate File 2 that allowed the public via the BCA website through Internet to view public convictions, to charge a fee, but the fee would sunset in 2005.

In 2005, Sen. Neuville and I were ready to make sure that the sunset remained therefore allowing the public to view the data for free as it continues to this day.

I still battle with the balance of privacy vs. right to know in the public venue, but I am more apt to be on the public data side for accountability and transparency because I have seen too much mischief being done in with things being secret.

With government in Minnesota, as Don Gemberling stated, “Legal privacy in the public sector in Minnesota depends almost entirely on how data about you is classified by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Chapter 13 of Minnesota Statutes.”