Police across the U.S. increasingly use small car-mounted cameras to scan thousands of license plates and pinpoint — in real time — stolen vehicles, suspended drivers and criminals, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Those same cameras record the time, date, and location of every car they see and store the information. That disturbs privacy advocates, who are calling for standards to govern how police classify and retain plate-reader data. Without a state law, police departments in Minnesota are free to set their own policies on how long they keep the information. The State Patrol deletes location data after 48 hours, St. Paul police erase it in 14 days and Minneapolis told a privacy advocate last year that the city retains it for a year.
When a Star Tribune reporter requested data on his own license plate under Minnesota’s open records law, the Minneapolis Police Department responded with a list of dates, times, and coordinates of his car that illustrated his daily routine. “The technology that would make ‘1984’ possible in real life exists now,” said Chuck Samuelson of the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union, which has joined 35 of its affiliates nationwide to file data requests on how local agencies use the technology. “But the infrastructure to protect individuals’ privacies and rights doesn’t exist, particularly on the legislative and the judicial side.” Bob Sykora, chief information officer for the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, is urging the legislature to classify the data as private so only the subject of it could obtain it.