A measure that would grant Minnesota law enforcement 90 days to hang on to location data gleaned from automated license plate readers narrowly made it out of a Minnesota Senate committee intact Monday, though it’s likely to face further challenges from privacy advocates in the Legislature.

After an hour-long debate, the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee voted 9-8 against an amendment that would change law the length of time law enforcement could keep “non-hit” data from 90 days to zero.

For the third consecutive session, lawmakers have sparred over whether LPR “hits” on innocent people should be deleted immediately—what privacy advocates want, or kept for 90 days-- what law enforcement  wants.

Revelations about the devices in 2012 raised calls by privacy and civil liberties advocates — as well as ordinary citizens — on how police classify and retain the data.

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, cast the deciding vote against the zero-retention amendment after a moment’s hesitation. Champion, who last year authored a 90-day retention bill that unanimously passed the Senate last year (a final measure died in conference committee,) said his vote was a difficult one.

I’m conflicted on it,” he said, adding that he’s hoping for a shorter retention period this time around-- one that pleases everyone.

 “I hoped there would be some ability for all of the players to come up with some compromise that works.” he said. “Hopefully they still will do that.”

Sen. Ron Latz, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and chief author of the 90-day retention bill, has long called it a compromise between law enforcement’s capability to fight crime and concerns for ordinary citizens’ privacy. A contingent of uniformed law enforcement officers have maintained a presence at each of the Senate hearings. Latz was resistant to having the bill heard in Monday’s Transportation committee, saying it pertained to data practices and was not in the committee’s jurisdiction. He said he expected a close vote, but didn’t know how it would turn out, and he’s ready for further challenges.

“An amendment is in order any step of the process, so I’ll be prepared for it.” He said.

Ten states currently have enacted laws regulating license plate reader use and data storage, though none, Latz pointed out, have zero retention. Under a zero-retention, he said, potential evidence could be destroyed before police may even know a crime was committed.

“You don’t know on day zero whether the license plate owner is involved in a crime. That data is destroyed immediately,” he said. “Even if you find out the next day that there was a murder and witness comes forward the day after and said ‘I saw a partial plate, it was a white Camry with the license plate letters ABC,’ that data is gone because there was no retention whatsoever.”

Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, proposed the zero-retention amendment, thinking it had a “50-50 shot” of passing. Although it didn’t, he voted to pass the bill out of committee.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said. “But you have to put an amendment out there for what you really want. I’m willing to go with 90 but I’d rather have something else.”

The bill heads next to the Senate Finance Committee. A pair of similar dueling measures in the House still await committee hearings.

Photo: Sen Ron Latz testifies on behalf of his 90-day retention bill for license plate reader data.

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