What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

City may ask state to keep some public data under wraps

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 31, 2012 - 2:53 PM

The city of Minneapolis is likely to ask the Legislature next year to make several types of public data inaccessible under the state's open records law.

Perhaps the most prominent is license plate reader data, a massive database of tracking information on nearly every car in Minneapolis. Any car that passes one of the city's license plate readers -- attached to several vehicles and bridges (see photo, at right)  -- is logged in the system for a year 90 days, and the data is available to anyone who requests it.

Incoming police Chief Janeé Harteau has asked the City Council to request that the data be classified as "private," meaning that people can only request data about themselves. Open government advocate Rich Neumeister has fought this approach, arguing that privatizing the data eliminates a key layer of accountability.

Harteau's request makes no mention of retention times, however. Minneapolis stores this data longer than any jurisdiction in the metro area, and mayor R.T. Rybak asked Harteau's predecessor to reassess that policy.

If the legislative requests are approved by the Council's Committee of the Whole tomorrow, the city will be asking for a number of other changes to state's open records law, known as the Data Practices Act.

The city attorney, Susan Segal, is requesting to privatize contact information of people who sign up for city e-mail notifications. "Constituents want to stay abreast of governmental actions, but not necessarily at the cost of losing privacy rights in their personal e-mail addresses," Segal wrote in her request.

The state Department of Administration, which issues non-binding opinions related to the Data Practices Act, said in 2008 that this contact information is public in relation to an inquiry from the city of Buffalo. 

Harteau would also like to privatize the e-mail addresses of people who sign up for crime alerts. She notes that the state protects home address and telephone numbers of "volunteers who participate in community crime prevention programs." People who sign up for crime alerts (such as MPLS reporters) do not always fall in that category, however.

Pictured: A license plate reader mounted on a city regualatory services vehicle.

Note: Following publication of this post, Sgt. William Palmer informed MPLS that the department has reduced the amount of time it stores license plate reader data from one year to 90 days.

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