DOJ advisory groups violate open meetings requirements

A subcommittee inside the California Department of Justice is accused of meeting in violation of the state’s open meetings act by failing to publicly disclose what actions it will be discussing in its required public meetings notice.

shutterstock_169549985-630x286 A cadre of First Amendment groups alleges that the subcommittee of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) also approves action that is then rubber stamped by the CLETS advisory committee (CAC) just hours later, again failing to properly announce what will be part of a discussion determined by law to be subject to advance disclosure.

The subcommittee, called the Standing Strategic Planning Subcommittee (SSPS), is, like CAC, composed of members of law enforcement associations and state agencies who form policy on justice matters in the state.

“Since at least July 2013, [CAC] and SSPS have scheduled their meetings on the same day. SSPS convenes in the morning and votes to make recommendations, then [CAC] meets in the afternoon and votes to finalize those recommendations,” reads a July 16 letter to the law enforcement telecom committee, signed by representatives of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, the First Amendment Coalition and Californians Aware. “This has resulted in a system in which the public has only a few hours to analyze decisions and formulate comment before these proposals are formally approved.”

The complaint was spurred by a plan to use the drivers’ license photo and other information of Californians with law enforcement agencies nationwide for use in facial recognition databases.

That idea was scrapped after the agency received 1,500 complaints earlier this year. But it was in the final stages of approval when it was discovered after being passed via the alleged breach of the open meetings law.

During a March meeting of the CAC, David Maass, an investigative researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the board that he and others were concerned about the effort to allow federal access to state drivers license data.

According to the minutes of that meeting, in response to Maass’ comments, “SSPS Chair [Tom] Bruce stated that the SSPS makes no decisions on policies, practices and procedures and that the subcommittee’s role is strictly advisory.”

As is the role of the CLETS board, according to the DOJ website, which states that the board’s job is to “counsel and assist the Attorney General on the proper collection, storage, dissemination and security of CLETS data.”

The DOJ had already applied for a $50,000 grant to put drivers’ license data into a national database, despite the warning of the California Department of Motor Vehicles that the policy violated state privacy law.

The subcommittee did not meet for four years before being put back together in 2013 “so that there are proper eyes on the future and to deal with issues that are not generally reviewed by [CAC],” according a minutes from a July 2013 meeting.

At that time, the board was cautioned by chairman Sam Spiegel that “the subcommittee needs to abide by the 2004 Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act, which requires public notice of meetings, agendas and an opportunity for the public to testify.”

Spiegel did not return a call.

In a joint meeting in November 2013 that was called to specify the goals of the freshly-revived subcommittee, board members noted that the sharing of drivers’ license photos nationally was not being done.

That meeting, though, launched the crusade to provide state drivers’ license photos to the feds. It was noted that the state was developing an “image warehouse” that will have facial capability.

At that time, subcommittee member Julie Basco, a representative from the state Department of Justice, said the federal law enforcement telecommunications system was seeking to include department of motor vehicle photos “though she is not aware of plans from [the feds] to create a national photo repository for DMV…”

The DOJ declined to make Basco available for an interview.

On Wednesday, the subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 9:00 a.m. followed by CAC at 1:00 p.m.

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