A lesson in perseverance

Minnesota's Kelley finds lawmakers are finally catching on to the importance of tech

State Senator Steve Kelley Home Page

In 1995, Steve Kelley, who was elected to Minnesota's House of Representatives just three years before, sponsored an Internet privacy bill modeled after video rental privacy legislation he supported.

The bill fell five votes short of passing, but he stuck to his guns and introduced the controversial bill seven years later — this time in the state Senate where he is now a member. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, then majority leader, sponsored a version in the House. In 2002, the bill passed and was signed into law.

"It protects information that you provide to your Internet service provider, or that your Internet service provider could obtain about you from monitoring your Internet usage, from being disclosed to a third party without your permission," said Kelley, adding that Minnesota might be one of the first states to enact such legislation.

It's a lesson in perseverance, but also one in evolution. In Minnesota — and nationwide — lawmakers increasingly are beginning to understand technology's significance in society.

"Legislators more and more began using the Internet as a tool," said 50-year-old Kelley, explaining why the bill passed the second time. "So they knew more about it from their own usage. But they were hearing more from constituents. So it was this bringing together of educating legislators with the strengthening of a public attitude."

Most lawmakers are also catching up with Kelley, who recognized the impact of technology and telecommunications 10 years ago and has been a steady supporter since. Nationally, he is chairman of the Communications, Technology and Interstate Commerce Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association of state lawmakers.

He also served on the National Task Force on Interoperability as a result of his work in helping Minneapolis and Hennepin County develop an 800 MHz interoperable radio communications system. He helped get high-speed Internet access for Minnesota public schools, public libraries and higher education institution through telecommunications access grants and helped fashion the state's digital signature law.

"Sen. Kelley has a wired brain," said Steven Clift, a Minnesota-based online strategist and leading international expert on e-democracy. "And so he has an astute understanding of the policy implications of technology and telecommunications as they mix together."

A lawyer by trade, Kelley first ran for the state legislature in 1984, but lost. He became involved with the Citizen's League, a nonpartisan public interest group, which did a study on high-speed telecommunications for residents.

When he was elected to the House in 1992, he was told to find a niche as a freshman legislator. He recalled his interest in the telecommunications issue and noticed it was one area not being addressed. His other legislative concerns include education, property taxes and health care.

Kelley served two House terms before being elected to the state Senate in 1996. He said some colleagues still only get snapshots of technology. "They just aren't going to use it regularly. But we're getting to the point now where we're drastically reducing our paper usage because we're using computers on the floor and expecting members to access bills and amendments using their machines," he said. But even if they use computers, the Internet and e-mail, "when you shift to things like data mining, data center consolidation or what are the cost benefits of centralizing technology operations in state government," he said, "that's a much tougher debate to have still because people are still not familiar with aspects of information technology."

He's glad some people defer to his judgment, "but you also need other people that people trust so it doesn't look like one of Steve Kelley's wacky ideas," he added.

Clift agrees. Lawmakers with less technological know-how quickly deter to those with the expertise. States legislatures need at least a dozen tech-savvy lawmakers in each body "who really get it," but most only have a handful, he said.

"There's a great advantage to having senators like Steve Kelley in every legislature," Clift said. "There's a disadvantage if there's only one...which then results in a lack of overall awareness throughout the body."

In the current economic climate, Kelley said lawmakers must renew discussions about information technology investments, particularly in the sectors where states spend a great deal — such as health care and education. Use of technology in those areas — for example, telemedicine and providing students with laptops — can result in productivity gains, he said.

In homeland security, he said integrating criminal databases and sharing information among various law enforcement agencies, such as Minnesota's CrimNet system, could spot or help catch potential terrorists. But he also said states need to change state laws governing electronic surveillance, designed to keep the private sector from becoming a spy for the government.

"But now we want to protect the security of computer systems, so we want ISPs to be looking for hackers, to be trying to identify people who are risks to systems security," Kelley said. "And if they find them, we want them to disclose that to law enforcement officials."

***

The Steve Kelley file

Professional experience: Minnesota state senator and majority whip, 1997 to present. Attorney with Mackall Crounse & Moore PLC in Minneapolis. Minnesota state representative, 1993-1996.

Education: Bachelor's degree from Williams College; Juris Doctorate from Columbia University School of Law.

Personal: Lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Sophie Bell Kelley, and has two children, Paul and Eleanor.

Hobbies: Reading, philosophy, cooking and collecting glass art.

NEXT STORY: Maryland tech incubator opens

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