Sunday, November 18, 2012

License Plate Readers and the Legislature

The 2013 Legislature will be considering a proposal that takes law enforcement data gathering to new heights.  Sanctioning the use of new technology and making secret the data collected by it.

Automated License Plate Recognition(ALPR)is the new technological tool.  Basically, its cameras set up stationary on places like bridges or light posts.  Another way is to be attached to roving or sitting patrol cars in parts of the city or countryside "sucking" up thousands of license plate numbers.

With this new tool or "toy" of law enforcement becoming known through blog posts and media reports there needs to be full public discussion of its merits, uses, and implications.  Law enforcement officials need to be asked tough questions by the public and policymakers.

As I have been following the issue of ALPR's for a long time I would like to see several questions answered by law enforcement officials-

A. Why do law enforcement agencies such as Minneapolis, St Paul, and others get ALPR's and start the collection of movements of law abiding and innocent people without public discussion?

B. Why did Minneapolis Police who have collected millions of license plate scans on law abiding and innocent people not have any protocols, policies, or procedures until the Star Tribune did its story?

C. What authority do Minnesota law enforcement have to collect millions of records on law abiding and innocent people and then retain it?

D. Why did the City of Minneapolis seemed surprised that the license plate scans were public? Should they not have already known?  The presumption of data being public has been law for decades.

E. Is there a violation of state law in the collection and storage of data on individuals because it may not have been authorized by the legislature or local governing body?

Tough questions to answer.

Law enforcement may say something like this:

"We are granted authority by government to maintain order and pursue the bad guys.  And we will do whatever it takes if it's legal."

The problem with that line of thinking is that it does not allow the the public to "police the police", ask the questions with answers to see if their actions are legal, but also to evaluate if the tactic, effort, or change compromises civil liberties, accountability, and transparency.

Starting in January 2013, the Legislature will gets its chance to weigh in on ALPR's, as the ultimate state body of "Who watches the watcher's?"