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Arrestee's dates of birth must be released to news media

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  1. Freedom of Information
MINNESOTA--The "strong and clear" presumption in the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act that government data is public unless otherwise designated…

MINNESOTA–The “strong and clear” presumption in the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act that government data is public unless otherwise designated by law means that dates of birth of persons arrested by the Minneapolis police department must be released to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the state District Court in Minneapolis ruled in early August.

The Star Tribune sued for the records in March after the police department issued new guidelines concerning the release to the news media of information about arrested persons. The guidelines provided that the department would disclose ages but not specific dates of birth while a case was still active.

Police told the court that because the birth dates were part of their “investigatory records,” they would be exempt under the law. However, the court said that because of the act’s broad mandate for openness, its exemption for “criminal investigative data” must be read narrowly. A narrow interpretation leads to the “inescapable conclusion” that information which is merely identifying “such as date of birth data or booking photo data” must be disclosed, it ruled.

The Minnesota Newspaper Association’s Bulletin noted that, increasingly, law enforcement agencies use date of birth as “a necessary key” to obtaining access to computer-stored information about individuals who have been in custody.

(Star Tribune v. Hennepin County Probation Department; Media Counsel: Mark Anfinson, Minneapolis)