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Minn state run police database shut down { December 18 2003 }

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Minn. Shuts Down Controversial Police Database

POSTED: 10:51 PM EST December 18, 2003
UPDATED: 1:18 AM EST December 19, 2003

ST. PAUL -- A massive state-run database of confidential police files was shut down Thursday out of concern it violated privacy laws, officials said.

Through a password-protected Internet site, the system gave police access -- sometimes right from their squad cars -- to a deep mine of records that included the names of suspects, witnesses and those who have been arrested, convicted and sought gun permits. The network sometimes offered a physical description and also contained juvenile files.

Some saw it as the sort of tool that could help police protect citizens, but others decried it as a Big Brother network operating outside the bounds of state regulation.

On Thursday, a nonprofit organization that owns the network voted to immediately purge the Multiple Jurisdiction Network Organization of its millions of police "contact" records. The records had been collected by more than 175 Minnesota police agencies and a handful in Wisconsin over several years.

Scott Knight, who is police chief for the town of Chaska, about 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis, called the shutdown "an absolute travesty and a major setback for law enforcement."

State officials had been poised to terminate the contract on their own if the organization -- the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association -- did not act.

The state Department of Administration determined last month that the network appeared to violate privacy protections in several ways, including its treatment of juvenile records and gun permit data.

Scott Chapman, a computer systems administrator, questioned the system after he learned he'd been detained by police at a political rally in part because of inaccurate information the system had about his request for a handgun permit.

"I hope that this leads to a renewed discussion on public access to government data at all levels and the responsibility of the agencies that collect it," he said.

The system was briefly taken down in October when a hacker claimed he gained access to the records. It later returned, but with about half the 8 million records it had at its peak.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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