The Government should respond in a timely manner to Data Practices Request for public information

Case Update

Victory! On April 18, 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided Tony Webster v Hennepin County, holding that the county had to provide data requested by Webster in 2015.

Case Background

Over a year ago, Tony Webster, a local data enthusiast, requested information about law enforcement use of biometric technologies like fingerprint scanners, iris, scanners, and facial recognition from various Minnesota law enforcement agencies. According to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act that information should be publicly available, however Hennepin County has failed to provide him with the information requested. In his request, he asked Hennepin County to perform keyword searches to help identify relevant electronic documents. Rather than utilize readily-available technologies for retrieving electronically stored information, Hennepin County responded to Webster's request for government data by utilizing a search process that is neither consistent with best practices nor sufficient under the MGDPA. While information responsive to this request is largely found in emails and could be retrieved using available technology, law enforcement has still not provided the requested information. Webster filed a case against Hennepin County to get the data, and an administrative law judge sided with Webster. Hennepin County appealed and the case is now before the Minnesota Court of Appeals. 

The ACLU-MN along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a brief in his case. The ACLU-MN is troubled by law enforcement's continued delay and claims that it is too burdensome to use keyword searches to find relevant data. The ACLU-MN relies heavily on the MGDPA to ensure that the government is acting properly and to bring to light instances of unconstitutional conduct. Without access to government emails–and a requirement that agencies maintain data in an arrangement and condition as to make them easily accessible and searchable—Minnesota residents would be seriously limited in their ability to learn what their government is up to.

Read KSTP's favorable coverage of the opinion for Webster v. Hennepin

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Stinson Leonard Street & Electronic Frontier Foundation

Date filed

October 13, 2016


Minnesota Court of Appeals