Pawlenty calls for stricter rules on release of government databy Patrick Condon, Associated Press
St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Attorney General Mike Hatch don't agree on much, but both of them are throwing their weight behind proposals to restrict access to personal information collected by the government.
They are, however, squabbling over the most effective way to do it.
Pawlenty on Thursday proposed a sweeping change in government handling of driver's license and other personal records. Under current law, such information is assumed to be public unless specific laws say otherwise.
"That's backwards," the Republican governor said, advocating a system that does the exact opposite: Make private all of the personal information the government collects.
Hatch, the Democratic attorney general and possible opponent of Pawlenty this fall, said Pawlenty was mimicking some proposals he already made.
"I'm glad he's climbing on board, but I don't want him to climb on board with a crummy bill that says it does something when it doesn't."
Pawlenty's proposals include limits on the disclosure of driver's license data, phone records and Social Security numbers.
The bipartisan rush to close off records is causing heartburn for advocates of open government.
"It's just an awful idea," said Gary Hill, the Freedom of Information chairman for the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. "The presumption of openness in government is there for a reason - we need transparency in government."
Hill, a news manager at KSTP-TV, said the state's Data Practices Act, as with many of its counterparts around the nation, date to the Watergate era, when lawmakers felt compelled to make government more open after the secrecy of the Nixon administration.
"There are clearly legitimate issues around identity theft, but this is the wrong way to address it," Hill said. He said the system Pawlenty envisions would make it easy to restrict access to nearly any government record.
Pawlenty said those laws were crafted before the Internet made information more accessible to anyone with a keyboard. The governor's proposal would:
-Make all driver's license data private. He instructed the Department of Public Safety to seek a temporary classification that all such information is private, while Hatch's office addresses legal issues that must be resolved to make it permanent.
-Make it a crime for unauthorized individuals to obtain, sell, release or receive private phone records, including for cell phones.
-Limit the business use of Social Security numbers as a means of identification. Businesses would not be able to use individual Social Security numbers except in limited situations. Offenders could be subject to fines and jail terms.
Hatch alleges that past Pawlenty administration actions have actually made data less secure. But he says he agrees that drivers license information should be private. "It doesn't seem to me that driver's license data is that necessary for the public to have," he said.
The day before Pawlenty's latest proposals, the state Republican Party was questioned about a CD-ROM it's sending out to voters. DFL critics said it has the potential to invade people's privacy.
The disc, in which Pawlenty and other Republicans urge support for a state constitutional ban on gay marriage, asks recipients to fill out personal information and includes a survey on social issues that's sent back to the state party.
After the contents of a prototype of the CD were reported by a Minnesota Public Radio blogger, GOP officials said it would be sent out with a disclaimer to recipients making it clear that personal information was being collected. They said that had been the plan all along.
Pawlenty said he didn't know the "mechanics" of the CD-ROM when he filmed his segment, but said he thought the party was in safe territory as long as participants know they're sharing personal information.
"To my understanding, that is the case here," Pawlenty said.