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House chair: 'No reason' for gov't to track innocent drivers

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: March 20, 2013 - 7:11 PM

A key committee chair in the Minnesota House is going toe-to-toe with law enforcement over whether they can store tracking information on the vehicles of law-abiding citizens.

At issue is a bill that would regulate law enforcement use of license plate readers, which log location and time information on every vehicle they spot on the road. Their primary purpose is to spot criminals in real time, but the devices also log location information about every car they see on the road.

The House Civil Law committee debated a bill Thursday that would make the data from the readers permanently private -- it was formerly public -- but also limit how long law enforcement can keep location information on non-criminals. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, caps it at 10 days.

"If you are an innocent actor, there is no reason whatsoever for the government to be tracking you in any way," said Rep. John Lesch, who chairs the committee. Lesch plans to introduce an amendment today that would eliminate all retention on non-criminals.

Lesch's proposal (which he hinted at several months ago) will face fierce opposition from law enforcement groups, who have pushed for a 180 day retention time. They argue that stored information can become valuable at a later date if someone is wanted in connection with a crime.

"I'm assuming you'll have some visitors coming to look for you today," Holberg quipped to Lesch after his announcement.

UPDATE: Privacy advocate Rich Neumeister said Lesch's amendment passed through the committee on a voice vote Wednesday night.

The Civil Law committee reconvenes at 6 p.m. this evening.

Separately, the committee approved another Holberg bill that would increase transparency surrounding data breaches. It clarifies the definition of data misuse and requires governments to publish investigatory reports on their website when they detect a breach.

The bill also includes a provision, pushed by Hennepin County Sherrif Rich Stanek, that allows people to request the names of whoever has accessed their private data. Stanek was stonewalled by the state trying to obtain the lookups on his driver's license file.

Steve Carlson, representing the state's counties and cities, testified that the provision will be "impossible" to comply with in some situations because "antiquated" systems do not track which employees accessed data.

"This applies to every bit of private data that is administered by state and local government in Minnesota," Carlson said. "And [it] would literally be a nightmare for us to administer."

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