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Minneapolis Accidently Published Private Information on Sexual Misconduct Cases

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Minneapolis may have violated state law when it accidentally published approximately 1,300 addresses where criminal sexual conduct was reported on its new open data website.

The city immediately took down the data when it was alerted to the problem, but this highlights the type of issues created when open data initiatives aren't handled competently. See also: Minneapolis's New Open Data Portal Is Basically Worthless

Minnesota law [Stat. § 13.82, subd. 17(b)] states that law enforcement must withhold public access to data when it would reveal the identity of a victim or alleged victim of criminal sexual conduct.

Publishing where an incident took place doesn't necessarily reveal a victim's identify, rather, it sits somewhere in the legal gray area brought up by the Stearns County Attorney's Office in 2012.

Regardless, in addition to launching a buggy, mostly useless site, Minneapolis also published data it did not intend to publish.

"Once discovered, the City removed the entire data set from the portal. Steps have been taken to ensure this does not happen again," wrote a city spokesperson when asked about the mistake.

The botched rollout of Minneapolis's open data portal included unintentionally publishing addresses where criminal sexual conduct took place

The botched rollout of Minneapolis's open data portal included unintentionally publishing addresses where criminal sexual conduct took place

It's important to note during the last year the city has made huge strides in recognizing the value of open data, and the new website is not beyond salvaging.

There's a huge array of insights available for journalists and citizens to discover if the city can fix the website. More time should have been taken to make sure the site was ready before launching, but the City Council mandated that it must be ready within 120 days when it passed its open data policy on July 30.

"I don't know what's happening at City Hall, but where was the review process for this pretty common-sense notion not to release the addresses of victims of criminal sexual conduct?" asked Tony Webster, the open data advocate who first discovered the mistake.

Webster says he was involved with the city's open data efforts early on, but over time his influence waned as his relationship with Minneapolis Chief Information Officer Otto Doll soured.

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