ST. PAUL, Minn. (July30, 2015) – On Saturday, a Minnesota law goes into effect that places strict limits on the use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) by law enforcement in the state. It also places significant roadblocks in the way of a federal program using states to help track the location of millions of everyday people through pictures of their license plates.
Sen. Ronald Latz (D), along with two cosponsors and four joint sponsors in the House, introduced senate bill 86 (SF86) back in January. The new law places strict limits on the use of license plate readers, including a warrant requirement in order to use ALPR data to track individuals subject to an active criminal investigation. The legislation also requires the destruction of any data unrelated to an active criminal investigation within 60 days, places strict limits on the sharing of any data gathered by ALPRs and prohibits the creation of a central state repository for such data.
The Senate passed the final version of SF86 55-11. The House approved the final measure 96-35.
The new law also includes provisions for destroying data related to inactive criminal investigations. The requirements limiting data retention and prohibiting a central depository will make it impossible for the state to establish a permanent database of information that state or federal law enforcement could later access to track individuals,
The bills strict limits on sharing ALPR data will also keep data on Minnesotans from finding its way into permanent databases. The bill requires any agency obtaining Minnesota ALPR data for an active criminal investigation to “comply with all data classification, destruction, and security requirements of this section.”
The law prohibits sharing of data not related to a criminal investigation completely.
Finally, the legislation limits the type of data that ALPRs can capture to license plate numbers; date, time and location information; and pictures of the license plate, vehicle and surrounding area. This means ALPRs in Minnesota cannot capture images of the vehicle’s occupants.
These strict limits on data and sharing will put a big monkey wrench in a federal program to track individuals through ALPRs.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tracks the location of millions of vehicle. They’ve engaged in this for nearly eight years, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy.
State and local law enforcement agencies operate most of these tracking systems, paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database to track the whereabouts of millions of people – for the simple act of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself.
Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, the new Minnesota law takes a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in the state. The feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist.
“No data means no federal license plate tracking program,” OffNow founder and deputy director Michael Boldin said.
Law enforcement generally configures ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of vehicles. But according to newly disclosed records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, the DEA is also captures photographs of drivers and their passengers.
According to the ACLU,
One internal 2009 DEA communication stated clearly that the license plate program can provide “the requester” with images that “may include vehicle license plate numbers (front and/or rear), photos of visible vehicle occupants [redacted] and a front and rear overall view of the vehicle.” Clearly showing that occupant photos are not an occasional, accidental byproduct of the technology, but one that is intentionally being cultivated, a 2011 email states that the DEA’s system has the ability to store “up to 10 photos per vehicle transaction including 4 occupant photos.”
With the FBI rolling out facial a nationwide recognition program last fall, and the federal government building biometric databases, the fact that the feds can potentially access stored photographs of drivers and passengers, along with detailed location data, magnifies the privacy concerns surrounding ALPRs.
With Minnesota now prohibiting its ALPRs from capturing vehicle occupant images, this ensures their photos will be far less likely to end up in these federal databases. Again, the feds can’t get a hold of things that don’t exist int he first place. If enough states pass similar legislation, it would effectively nullify the federal program.