MN House OKs limits on auto license tracking

The Minnesota House has voted to place strict limits on a technology police departments use to track the location of vehicles.

The bill governs data collected by automatic license plate readers. Mounted on squad cars and at busy intersections, the cameras record the license plate number, time and location of every vehicle they encounter.

The House bill bans police from storing the information the cameras collect, unless the vehicle or its owner is wanted in connection with a crime.

"I think there is an expectation that we won't be followed around by the government," said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights.

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Many police departments, including those in Minneapolis and St. Paul, use automatic license plate readers and store all the data they collect for months. Last year Minneapolis had more than 2 million license plate numbers stored in its database.

Law enforcement groups opposed the House bill, arguing the databases have helped solve numerous crimes.

Several lawmakers echoed those concerns, worrying the proposed restrictions would tie the hands of investigators.

"When people here start playing with the public safety of people in my district, then I get very upset," said Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis. "Some of you should come and meet the families of the kids who are murdered by gangs. Come over there, and then you'll know how to vote on this."

The version of the bill under consideration in the state Senate gives law enforcement more leeway to store data collected by the cameras. It allows the the license plate numbers to be retained for up to three months.

The Senate has yet to vote on its bill. Assuming it approves, the two pieces of legislation need to be reconciled before the Legislature adjourns Monday. House members said they wanted to be on the record supporting strong restrictions going into conference committee.

While the two bills have big differences when it comes to how the data can be used, legislators in both bodies agree it should be private.

Up until last December, those data were classified as public, and local governments were required to release it to anyone who asked.

Minneapolis received at least 100 requests for the data. The data are currently subject to a temporary order allowing local governments to keep them secret while the Legislature deliberates on the issue.