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Minneapolis says license plate scanners pose public safety risk

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The city of Minneapolis is going to the Legislature to try to change a law that allows data from automatic license plate readers to be released to the public, MPR reports.

The scanners used around the state are designed to help officers find criminals and stolen cars.

But the city says there has been at least 100 requests for data from scanners over the last five months--most from people who wanted to know where the readers had spotted an individual license plate. Other requests came from academics, entrepreneurs and one man who repossesses cars.

Susan Segal, an attorney for the city, tells MPR that the data poses significant risk to public safety and has asked the state to issue an order to make the data private for two years while the city lobbies to change the law.

Mark Pitts, a data scientist living in Minneapolis, received a copy of the entire database and highlights some of the risks in his blog. After analyzing the data, Pitts says you can also track the movements of police which makes him less concerned about ordinary criminals.

"Admittedly, your average criminal knucklehead is not going to have the chops to make use of these data," Pitts said. "I am concerned about individuals, organizations, or foreign governments who might use these data to assist in planning and executing operations intended to do harm,"

The American Civil Liberties Union has also taken up the issue and filed federal Freedom of Information Act requests with Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Transportation to learn how the government funds license plate scanner expansion nationwide and uses the technology itself.

"As license plate location data accumulates, the system ceases to be simply a mechanism enabling efficient police work and becomes a warrantless tracking tool, enabling retroactive surveillance of millions of people," the ACLU says on their website.

Requests for information by the ACLU were also filed locally with Bloomington Police, Olmstead County Sheriff, Mille Lacs County Sheriff, Minneapolis Police, Moorhead Police, Minnesota State Patrol, Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

MPR says a recently-issued administrative order classifies the data as private for at least the next three months. It applies to Minneapolis and any other Minnesota cities that collect this data.

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