Minnesota’s Data Practices Act is more complex than you would expect. Think of all the different kinds of data collected by government bodies in the state, and all the kinds of data generated by those government bodies.
The Act says who gets access to specific data: anyone in the public; just the subject of the data; or, in some cases, noone but the government. The Act is supposed to balance the public’s right to government data, and certain privacy and government interests. In a nutshell, data is public unless the Act says it’s not.
A new decision handed down last week by the Court of Appeals addresses access to one kind of data: video tapes recorded by the MTC on its buses. KSTP sought access to tapes recorded on two buses. The Metropolitan Council refused to provide the tapes — contending that the tapes were “personnel data” related to discipline of the drivers and were therefore “private” under the Act, available to the drivers but not to the public.
The Court rejected that argument, based on the language of the statute, and on its underlying purpose.
The Court noted that the video recordings were made for a number of reasons, not just driver discipline. For example, videos are used to investigate crimes, to investigate accidents and to evaluate passenger needs. The Court concluded that where video data is collected for several reasons — public and private — the fact that it has a private disciplinary use does not allow a government body to withhold it.
The case only deals with videos taken on public buses. But, if followed in other decisions, it may have much broader implications. At least for some kinds of data, when data are collected for more than one purpose, including private or nonpublic uses, the data must be made public.
Stay tuned for further developments.