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Mpls. license plate tracking data under wraps -- for now

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: December 18, 2012 - 5:58 PM

License plate tracking data in Minneapolis is no longer public -- at least for the time being.

In a lengthy request sent to the Department of Administration today, city officials made their case for reclassifying sensitive data derived from license plate readers as non-public. The request, made at the request of Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City Council, precedes likely action at the Legislature to reclassify the data statewide.

The data is reclassified temporarily as soon as the request is received. The commissioner of administration has 45 days to decide whether to grant it. If it is not granted, it reverts to being public again.

License plate tracking data has been a hot topic in recent months, since it is currently classified as public under state law. That means someone who knows a license plate number can ask police where it has been seen by license plate readers.

Since the Star Tribune first reported on this topic in August, the police department has been inundated with requests. Requestors have included repo men, attorneys, data miners and members of the public. Last week, the city released a massive dataset containing location information on more than one million plate reads.

The city's reclassification request makes a broad case for why public license plate tracking data is a threat to public safety. It says there have been 14 requests for the entire database, including a standing request that it be provided every 90 days.

"The MPD is also receiving an increasing number of individual license plate requests for persons other than the subject of the data," the request says.

It adds that victims of domestic abuse or stalkers could potentially be tracked by license plate reader data. "Crime victim safety is being placed at risk by the availability of this data," the request says.

Some have disputed whether the data could be reasonably used for tracking movements, however, since the department generally only keeps a few data points on each vehicle. Minneapolis police used to keep data for one year; now they keep it for 90 days.

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