May 092017
 

Susan Du reports:

Independent reporter Tony Webster makes a lot of data requests in his line of work as a government watchdog.

In 2015, he was inspired by research on the development of police surveillance technologies to do some digging on what sorts of game-changing gadgets Minnesota cops might have adopted.

Webster submitted letters to a variety of agencies, requesting public information under the state Government Data Practices Act. He found out from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office had mobile scanners that recorded fingerprints, so he zeroed in, asking the Sheriff’s Office for emails related to their use of identification technologies.

The Sheriff’s Office dragged its feet for months. Webster was told that his request to search for a list of about 20 keywords was too large, and that it would take an unreasonable 15 months of around-the-clock server time to trawl through millions of employee emails. Webster offered to simplify his request. Still, he was stonewalled.

Where other cash-strapped reporters might have had their hands tied at this point, Webster got some pro-bono attorneys and sued the county.

 

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