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September 27, 2007

Special-Ed Students Denied Rights

This story actually begins in the 2004-05 school year when the Robbinsdale School District canceled a swimming program for special-education students.
According to the Star Tribune, the district notified teachers of the cancellation but parents of 31 students in the program were not.
This violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Debra Silbernagel brought the case to the state's attention, saying her daughter, Stacey Anthony, needed the program to overcome her disability.
The Education Department decided that the district violated the law and ordered compensatory swim classes for the 2006-07 school year.
The district appealed the decision, arguing that parents had been notified about the cancellation through letters and meetings.
They also said the state went too far by ordering compensation for the 30 families who had not complained initially.
On Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals rejected these arguments, saying the district denied students' rights.
According to the Star Tribune, Robbinsdale Superintendent Stan Mack said an appeal to the Supreme Court is not out of the question, but he would rather move on from the ordeal.
To read the Star Tribune article go to http://www.startribune.com/462/story/1447544.html

September 26, 2007

Coon Rapids Man Accused of Fraud

A Coon Rapids man appeared in federal court today on fraud charges.
According to a Pioneer Press article http://www.twincities.com/allheadlines/ci_6996217?nclick_check=1, Mark William Gillick, 56, allegedly scammed his victims out of $800,000.
Gillick has been formally indicted with five counts of securities fraud.
These include two counts of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud.
Each charge can send Gillick to prison for 20 years.
Court records show from December 2002 to April 2005, Gillick sought after investors by phone and email.
Gillick claimed he was selling stock in a company that made medical devices.
He had no affiliation with the company and used the investments for himself.
He spent the money on cars, homes, and mortgage payments.

September 21, 2007

Intelligent Cameras on Campus

Surveillance cameras at the University of Minnesota are more sophisticated than ever.
The school is testing cameras that can detect human behaviors.
The system cannot predict crimes, but it will alert authorities of any criminal-like activity.
An article http://wcco.com/crime/local_story_262184618.html posted Wednesday on WCCO.com offers some good details on how the new cameras work:

"The system tracks 18 different behaviors -- including lurking. Squares on a computer screen show people moving around. If a person bumps into someone else's square or if a square just stands still, it will alert the system."

According to the same article, there are six of these cameras on the Washington Avenue Bridge and five more located around campus.

The camera system costs $24,000, and the university will test them for six months.

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Analysis:

The September 19th article on WCCO.com was not based on any public documents, but it was written using information provided by university security officials. Wayne LaMusga, information technology specialist at the Department of Central Security, is quoted frequently in the article. Mr. LaMusga was contacted both by email and phone, but he refused to comment further for the purposes of this web blog. Attempts to contact the two students interviewed in the story had similar results. Although the topic is not a controversial one, people seem wary about having a student writing about their thoughts rather than a professional news outlet. Nonetheless, WCCO managed to find people who were willing to open up to their questions. The article itself was objective, and its language did not promote the new system. In fact, the article brought to light some of the pitfalls and potential disadvantages of having behavior-recognition technology. WCCO practiced good news judgement by interviewing students because this story affects them the most. It might have been nice to get reactions from "experts" along with students, but the article's intention was not critical analysis. It was written to inform, and it accomplished this.


UPDATE

One of the students interviewed in the WCCO story replied to my email query this afternoon (Sept. 24). Her comments are quite fascinating. Here is the email (concerning the fairness of the article, TV coverage etc.):

Well, I felt a little taken out of context, given that I actually had much
more to say than that... but they got the jist of it. I disliked the
cameras. What bothers me more than the cameras themselves, though, is that
they didn't tell the students they were installing them. Perhaps they
didn't even tell the staff. They were installing the cameras that very day
I was interviewed, and I didn't know what was going on until the Channel 4
reporter came up to me with the microphone and told me. How can I have a
fully informed and accurate opinion on something and how am I supposed to
feel safe about something which my school does without my knowledge. I feel
insulted by the school, even if no evil comes of the new software. We have
a right to know what's going on around here. And what are these cameras
going to flag as innappropriate? Friends shoving each other playfully?
Couples walking hand in hand or kissing? People who are just clumsy could
get accused of assault. I'm all for preventing suicides and crimes, but
will it even make a difference? They need to explain what exactly the
software and those observing it are going to mean for us. Or we have every
right to feel threatened. And how much money is this costing? How does it
impact tutition. I have so many questions! I'm not terrified or anything,
but I am ticked off and a little insecure. Thanks for sending me the links.
I really appreciate it. I was wondering if I'd ever see it for myself. :)
-Talia Carlton

September 18, 2007

No Pardon For Par

Newspaper publisher Par Ridder stepped down from his job early Tuesday morning following a judge's ruling.
The decision comes almost three months after Ridder appeared in Ramsey County court in response to a lawsuit filed against him.
He had been accused by the St. Paul Pioneer Press of taking important documents and sharing them with his new employer, the Star Tribune.
These documents included budget information, company expenses, and ad rates.
Ridder was also accused of violating a non-compete agreement which prevented him from working with any rival newspapers for one year.
According to WCCO, Judge David C. Higgs said his ruling was necessary to prevent further damage to the Pioneer Press and to ensure that Ridder did not benefit from his past misconduct.
Ridder officially left the Star Tribune at 8:40 a.m. and will step down for one year.
Star Tribune chairman Chris Harte will be interim publisher.

The entire affair is unfortunate, considering the struggles of the newspaper market.
Competition is fierce, and Ridder made a gutsy move.
According to WCCO, Ridder testified that he never used the information he took from the Pioneer Press for competitive advantage.
Judge Higgs saw things differently and made a fair decision.
One year away from the job seems like a small price to pay.
Ridder should count his blessings and come back a better (ethical) man.

September 14, 2007

PhotoCop Versus 147 Motorists

The PhotoCop program was supposed to be an efficient way to keep Minneapolis streets safe.

Cameras photographed the license plates of cars running red lights and tickets were issued through the mail.

However, in early April, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the program was unconstitutional.

Now, 147 motorists who paid fines as a result of PhotoCop want their money back.

They have also asked the Hennepin County District Court to help their case.

The issue with PhotoCop was not about intention but with its execution.

Citations were issued to car owners, regardless if they were behind the wheel or not.

After the Supreme Court ruling, fines were dismissed and records cleared.

Over 26,000 motorists were affected, but the numbers are not as important as the underlying legal issues.

We abide by the rule that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

The court justices saw PhotoCop violating this rule.

Our goverment, both on a state and federal level, have found ways to keep track of us, i.e. wire-tapping, traffic cameras, etc.

They have good intentions (catch people before they can hurt people).

However, if these preventative measures come at the expense of constitutional rights, then someone has to shine light on it.

In the PhotoCop case, the Minnesota Supreme Court stepped up for the people.

Hopefully, this kind of response will happen everytime, whenever necessary.

If not, we'll unknowingly pay the price (traffic tickets included) of our own ignorance.

September 12, 2007

Toe-Licking St. Paul Man

St. Paul residents now know the identity of the man who licked a woman's toes after robbing her early Saturday morning.

Carlton Jermaine Davis, 26, has been charged with taking a woman's cell phone and keys while she was leaving work around 1 a.m.

It seemed like a typical robbery until Davis asked the woman to take off her shoes.

After the woman complied, Davis told her he was going to suck her feet.

Davis also tried to suck the victim's neck but ran away after spotting nearby pedestrians.

The toe-licking Davis did not get far and was arrested a few minutes later.

The charges against Davis include simple robbery and theft from a person.

His bail has been set at $20,000.


Commander Kevin Casper of the St. Paul police said the attack was "weird sexual behavior."

"Weird" is definitely a good description, but this type of crime is not without precedent.

According to Greg, a blogger on Metroblogging Minneapolis, a similar crime occurred in the Netherlands a few years ago.

When the suspect was released without charges, lawmakers in that country seriously considered making toe-licking a criminal offense.

This may seem like light-hearted, news-of-the-weird, but from the victims' point of view, a violation is a violation, and toe-licking could easily have been something much worse.

Let us keep that in mind before we throw this story away as inconsequential news.