Posted: 12/28/2003 9:55:07 AM EDT
Big Brother's databases target legal gun owners
By MIKE KRAUSE
This year began for Colorado gun owners with the news that some Colorado sheriffs were entering concealed carry permit holders into the statewide Colorado Crime Information Center (CCIC) database, clear enough evidence that those sheriffs consider gun owners seeking to abide by the law to be truly dangerous citizens.
This year is ending with Minnesota gun owners learning that the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) thinks the same of them. But there is a twist. The MCPA didn't have a statewide database with which to demonize permit holders, so they made their own, with brazen disregard for state privacy laws.
Some years back the MCPA (a private organization) started the Multiple Jurisdiction Network Organization (MJNO) and began uploading files from various police agencies to include gun permit and juvenile records, and various police "contact" information. They then made the database available back to law enforcement agencies throughout the state. It operated with no legislative permission or oversight and in near secrecy. As in Colorado, concealed carry permit information was mixed in along with criminal suspects.
The MJNO became public knowledge recently when a Minnesotan named Scott Chapman attended a counter protest to an anti-war rally. Police saw him take a fanny pack from the trunk and ran his car's license plate, which also gave them the registered owner's driver's license information. After matching the physical description from the DMV to Chapman they ran his name through MJNO which showed that he had been denied a concealed carry permit over a year before. This was used as "cause" to search his fanny pack, which he vehemently objected to, and which turned up - ironically enough - a copy of a primer on the U.S. Constitution. What MJNO didn't show was that Chapman had been issued his permit a month before (in May, Minnesota enacted the "shall issue" Minnesota Citizens' Personal Protection Act of 2003).
Aside from the obvious question of why being denied a permit, which prior to "shall issue" could easily have been the arbitrary decision of a petty bureaucrat, should make someone a suspect-at-large, is why the MCPA was sharing gun permit data that wasn't theirs to gather in the first place.
Don Gemberling, Minnesota's director of information policy, wrote a detailed opinion, at the behest of a legislator, on the legality of MJNO as it pertains to state privacy law, the Minnesota Data Practices Act. Among his findings was that MJNO was collecting and sharing information, including gun permit records, which are considered private under Minnesota law and require notification to the applicant as to how it will be used. "There is no authority from the legislature for these data to be transferred to a statewide database like MJNO whether operated by government or a private party".
Further, the MCPA denied citizens the ability to see what information was compiled about them, an essential element for government officials in flouting the law or the privacy of citizens.
When Minnesota state Rep. Mary Liz Holberg went to the MCPA to see what they had on her, she was told that MJNO information was "criminal investigative data" and classified as confidential.
Gemberling, however, found that MJNO contained among other things, "arrest, request for service and response or incident data" and according to his analysis, “These are data elements that are always public. In other words they cannot be classified as active criminal investigation data.”
This is in addition to the fact that the MCPA as a private entity has no authority to classify anything as confidential. "As the MCPA is not a law enforcement agency, it cannot make the determination that data are active criminal investigative data."
The Minnesota Chiefs of Police may very well of been acting out of a desire to aid law enforcement in their state, but MJNO was built, like much of the modern surveillance state, on the twin pillars of arrogance and unaccountability: where private information gathered under the rule of law is theirs to do with as they please and false claims of confidentiality are invoked to keep up the ruse; and where all citizens, and especially gun owners, are suspect and live to fill the files of power junkies and bureaucrats, but aren't trusted to be in on the game.
It is to Minnesota's credit, despite the MCPA's disregard for the law, that the state's Data Practices Act recognizes gun permit information as private. But it is a mystery as to why Colorado lags behind a state, which generally tilts to the left of the city of Boulder, in protecting the privacy of gun permit holders.
Mike Krause is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan Colorado think tank. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness and constitutional rights.