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Minn. senators doing a good job

Minnesota's senators keep busy trying to pass or improve legislation improving the lives of ordinary people.

Some examples (out of a great many):

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's legislation to protect seniors from neglect or abuse by court-appointed guardians passed the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.

According to a story by Linda Vanderwerf of the West Central Tribune of Willmar, The Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act would help states improve their oversight of guardians and conservators of seniors and vulnerable adults. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, cosponsored the bill with Klobuchar, a democrat.

(Klobuchar has been especially successful in finding ways to work across the aisle to work with republican lawmakers.)

The legislation was approved with a 15-3 vote and will be referred to the full Senate for approval.

The goal is to protect people from being neglected or financially exploited by their guardians.

The issue will grow in importance as the population of seniors doubles in the coming decades, Klobuchar said during the committee hearing on Thursday.

"I know every state has incidences of people getting ripped off millions of dollars when their loved one is supposed to be under the care of a guardian," she said. "Most guardians do amazing work, good work, but again you have a situation where you have a very few that are causing a lot of harm."

The bill does not provide new funding but allows states to use funding from an existing program to improve its monitoring of guardians, Klobuchar said. It also authorizes an electronic filing system to monitor and audit conservatorships and guardianships.

"We have found a number of problems in the ways these things are monitored," she said. "Many states don't even have criminal background checks."

According to information from Klobuchar's office, a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office identified hundreds of allegations of physical abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, meanwhile, has been taking the lead on privacy issues -- something lawmakers need to get their arms around as technology speeds ahead of outdated laws.

As chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, Franken recently held a hearing entitled "What Facial Recognition Technology Means for Privacy and Civil Liberties."

Think it doesn't apply to you? Chances are, your face is already in the database.

In the past several years, facial recognition technology has been used by law enforcement, social networks, and even Departments of Motor Vehicles, meaning that many -- if not most -- citizens are likely a part of some kind of facial recognition database.

Franken is looking into how the technology works and the potential privacy risks it creates.

"The dimensions of our faces are as unique to us as our fingerprints," Franken said. "And right now technology exists that gives the government and companies the ability to figure out your name and other personal information about you with nothing more than a photograph."

Privacy is an issue of great concern to us. The potential for abuse by government and corporations is very real and must be held firmly in check. Congress has to stay on top of this, and Franken understands that.