Protection of government collected private data addressed

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Look no further than the shift from storing information on a computer hard-drive to the cloud, and you’ll understand the importance of data practices. However, lines can blur over what information is considered public.

The state’s Data Practices Act “governs what government can do and can’t do with data,” said Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-Hopkins) on the House Floor Thursday as he introduced the omnibus data practices act. He sponsors the bill containing provisions that delineate circumstances where data is collected by a public entity but should be considered private.

Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kari Dziedzic, the companion, SF745, was passed by that body on April 18 in a 41-24 vote. When it came to the House, Simon successfully amended the bill to the House language in HF695. The bill passed the House 73 to 58.

One bill provision addresses who can access the contact information of people who sign up for email alerts from a city regarding such things as snow emergencies or the availability of city council meeting agendas. Currently, that information is considered fair game to anyone who wants it, but that would become more restrictive under the bill.

The following data would be considered as private when received voluntarily by a government entity for notification or informational purposes:

  • telephone numbers;
  • personal email; and
  • Internet user name, password and Internet protocol address.

Data provided by people who use public transit and the web services of the Metropolitan Council also came under scrutiny by the House Data Practices Subcommittee. This information would be considered private, but could be disseminated for certain purposes. Employers that subsidize fares and government entities could access the customer’s transaction history and fare card use.

The bill would also permit local law enforcement officials to use the Minnesota criminal repository to conduct background checks on applicants for employment with the county or city and on individuals seeking licensure by the county or city if a background check is not otherwise mandated by federal or state law.

Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) successfully amended the bill on the House Floor to allow storage of hearing screening tests for a period of time not to exceed 18 years from the infant’s date of birth. A parent or legal guardian could instruct that the results be destroyed by providing a signed and dated with the request.

The bill now returns to the Senate for concurrence.