The Free Press, Mankato, MN


January 29, 2013

Lawmakers to weigh in on license plate readers


"But like any technology, sooner or later it will move into some sort of an application in the rural areas," Franklin said.

Minneapolis police have about 10 readers; St. Paul police have seven. There are five in Bloomington, two in Duluth and more in Lakeville, Roseville, Maplewood and Washington and Olmsted counties. The Minnesota State Patrol has one.

Almost $4 million in grants from the Minnesota Department of Commerce last April helped police departments and sheriff's offices buy readers, billing it primarily as a tool to fight auto theft.

The readers also feed their scans into their agency's database, which officers can search to find when and where a car has been seen.

That's the investigative feature police will be fighting for at the Capitol. The longer the data can be kept, police reason, the farther back they can go to track someone down.

So far law enforcement agencies have set their own rules.

Minneapolis police kept it for up to a year until last fall, when it cut the retention period to 90 days. Around the same time, St. Paul bumped its retention period up from two weeks to 90 days. The State Patrol tosses the data from its sole reader after just 48 hours.

Franklin said it will be good to have a standard for all law enforcement to follow. He said they could live with a 180-day maximum retention period as a compromise.

But state lawmakers have a much shorter period in mind.

Lesch, whose committee will hear the bill first, said he thinks any license plate data that's not a "hit" should be immediately tossed.

"There's no reason for them to be holding information about citizens for whom they do not have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or probable cause," he said. "That's not what we do in America."

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