Local Software Engineer Sues Bloomington Over Data Access

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Via News Release

Minneapolis, MN – Last Friday, Tony Webster, a public records researcher and software engineer, brought suit in Hennepin County District Court against the City of Bloomington to legally compel access to public government data pertaining to the December 20, 2014 Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America.

Webster’s complaint alleges that the City of Bloomington violated the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by unlawfully and intentionally refusing him access to government information about the protest and law enforcement’s response, and by withholding, concealing, and likely destroying data without any legal basis for doing so.”

On December 23, 2014, Webster submitted his public records request to inspect government data from the Bloomington Police Department and other city agencies related to the protest. Webster sought emails, voicemails, video recordings, and other documents to increase the public’s understanding of the City of Bloomington’s actions and response to the protest.

In response, the City provided access to only a fraction of the information and documents responsive to Webster’s request and delayed its gathering of data. The City of Bloomington denied Webster access to metadata, an integral part of every electronic document, image, and video. Metadata is essential for establishing a timeline of events, seeing how a document was created, who created it, and for verifying the authenticity of data. Webster also found documentation indicating that the City had accessed his voter registration data prior to responding to his request.

After waiting almost six months, the City of Bloomington now refuses to allow Webster access to any data responsive to his request.

“After repeated attempts to work with the City to obtain access to the public data I requested, the City of Bloomington has stonewalled me and attempted to intimidate and discourage me from exercising my rights,” Mr. Webster said. “The Data Practices Act provides the public and journalists the opportunity and legal right to see how their government works. It was written to provide access to information in situations just like this. I am disappointed the City has taken an adversarial position to the interests of transparency, but I am hopeful that this action will inspire change.”

The limited data that Mr. Webster was permitted to inspect has been used as the basis of multiple news stories that have garnered local and national media attention, including news that the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was tracking Black Lives Matter activists and that the Mall of America used a fake Facebook account to ‘friend’ protest organizers for surveillance and monitoring.

Webster’s research and advocacy work has been focused around using government data for the public benefit. He frequently works with journalists to document how government agencies use technology and has developed several web applications to engage the public to better access government services.

Webster is represented by Maslon LLP and Godfread Law Firm in this matter.

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