Minnesota Debates License Plate Reader Data Retention

Lawmakers from the state are considering a bill that would enable law enforcement agencies to retain data obtained from license plate readers for up to 30 days.

by / April 1, 2015
Minnesota lawmakers are considering a license plate data retention law. Shutterstock

Minnesota is making some progress addressing the concerns of residents who don’t like cops holding onto data taken from license plate scans.

Law enforcement officials would only be able to store the information gathered from plate readers for 30 days, under a compromise reached between Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, and Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. Cornish had wanted 90 days of data retention, while Scott sought immediate deletion of the information.

Records pulled from license plate scans are generally used to find stolen vehicles and track suspects. But privacy advocates have argued that the benefits don’t necessarily outweigh the infringement of civil liberties.

In an interview with Government Technology, Cornish said he took up the issue and introduced House File 222 at the request of law enforcement officials. Had lobbyists for the police chiefs not asked him to, Cornish admitted he probably wouldn’t have delved into the topic. He said it wasn’t “on his radar.”

Cornish confirmed that various law enforcement agencies around the state use the readers and have varying policies on how long data from the readers is retained. This is the third consecutive session that the Minnesota Legislature has addressed the license plate data retention issue, according to the StarTribune. Previous efforts have died in committee. Last year’s Senate bill had been whittled down to a zero retention policy before dying.

Cornish explained he introduced HF 222 with a 90-day data retention policy, as that was the level being discussed – ultimately moving down to 30 days in final negotiations – before last year’s measure fell apart.

“I brought it back hoping to continue that, and now it looks pretty good for resolution,” Cornish said.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, told Government Technology that he believes a 30-day retention to be an acceptable compromise, particularly after discussing the issue with both law enforcement and privacy advocates. But he thinks the bigger issue is what’s next.

“Are we going to go through this same sort of thing every time a new device or technology is developed, which seems to be occurring more and more frequently?” Atkins said. “Or can we adopt guidelines and laws that apply to all or at least most of these scenarios?”

Approximately 10 states have laws on the books about license plate readers and retention of their data. None of them have zero retention, however, according to the StarTribune.

HF 222 was heard in the Minnesota House of Representatives Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 24. It passed out of committee and now resides with the General Register, awaiting its next move.

“I’m tired of hearing of [about] it," Cornish said. "And I hope it’ll resolve this year in a way that allows a cop to use [license plate readers] as an effective crime-fighting tool but protects the citizen’s privacy."

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.

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