Gun group opposes police keeping license plate data

Several police groups testified in support of a bill allowing police to keep data collected by license plate readers. Tom Scheck | MPR News

A leading gun rights group is lining up against a bill that would allow police departments to keep data collected from license plate readers.

Law enforcement agencies want to keep data collected by the automated readers for 90 days. They say it will help them solve crimes.

But some gun owners worry that the data might be used to infringe on their Constitutional rights.

Joe Olson, board chair of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, told the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday that he’s worried police could collect information about people when they park outside gun shows.

“If they can do it at a gun show, they can do it at a political rally. They can do it a meeting of northside Minneapolis residents. They can do it at a meeting of the tea party. They can do it anywhere they want,” Olson said.

The debate over how long the data should be kept has been a long running battle within the halls of the Capitol.  Police argue the license plate readers help them solve crimes. Privacy advocates worry the readers are collecting and storing information about the whereabouts of innocent people.

Both of those arguments were repeated in the transportation committee hearing.

Mendota Heights Police Chief Mike Aschenbrener told the committee that license plate readers helped police find Brian Fitch in July.

Fitch was later convicted of killing Mendota Heights Police Officer Scott Patrick. Aschenbrener said a survey of a database including license plate “hits” showed Fitch’s vehicle was in the area 29 days before the incident occurred.

“Had that been 30 days earlier and we had a 30 day retention period, we would not have had that,” Aschenbrener said. “That information would not have been available to help tie the suspect to the area, tie that suspect to the vehicle eventually, and help put these pieces together.

Privacy advocates and civil liberty groups have been lobbying the Legislature to forbid police from keeping the data for longer than one day.

Committee members expressed differing views on the bill.

Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, said she sees value in allowing police to keep the license plate information. She said the recent terror threat at the Mall of America in Bloomington is an example of why it’s important to collect the data.

“We live in different times,” Franzen said. “I like to have the public safety community on my side and to make sure that they’re using this information for public safety.”

But other committee members said it’s not the role of police to collect and keep data on law-abiding citizens.

“We have a presumption of innocence,” said Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. “Just because you can in this digital era doesn’t mean you should. Or just because you can doesn’t mean I gave up my right to have a presumption of innocence. If you don’t have a probable cause, you don’t have the right to deal with that data.”

The committee ended the day debating an amendment that would forbid the police from retaining the data for longer than a day.

Committee Chair Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said they’ll meet again Monday to keep talking about the bill.

  • KTN

    Mr. Olsen seems to be confused about constitutional rights, especially with regards to the 2nd A. Collecting data outside of a gun show is simply that, collecting data. That collection in no way tramples his right to own a firearm, but then those folks never let facts get in their way.

    Good try however, using the whole fear thing, but that is what they and their terrorist buddies at the NRA like to do, instill fake fear that the gubmint is going to come and take their guns.

    The good Representative Kiffmeyer might want to brush up on her Con Law too. There is no presumption of privacy while on public streets, including driving your car.

  • kevins

    If you live in a small town, no need to ID vehicles by license tags as everyone knows who drives what an where they are parked. On a broader level, I have no problem with law enforcement keeping license tag data, gun show or not, because I’m not particularly hypervigilant about government intrusion, and find no need to rationalize gun ownership as a way to protect me from the government.

  • EdBradly7

    These paranoid, low intelligence AMMOSEXUALS with their gun fetishes won’t be happy until Minnesota becomes an Open Carry state like Texas. They should just move to Texas with the rest of the gun nut jobs..