Like all areas of society, as technology continues to change so to must the way public safety personnel operate.
To that end, the Legislative Commission on Data Practices received updates Tuesday on law enforcement uses of automated license plate readers and body cameras. It also looked at potential future technologies.
No action was taken. However, Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover), the commission chair, anticipates more hearings before the 2018 legislative session to formulate recommendations for lawmaker consideration.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Automated license plate readers (ALPRs) capture computer-readable images that allow law enforcement to compare plate numbers against plates of stolen cars or cars driven by individuals wanted on criminal charges. The devices are mounted on police cars, road signs or traffic lights and capture thousands of images of plates.”
The NCSL notes that as of May 2017, at least 14 states, including Minnesota, have statutes regarding use of these readers and retention of collected data.
Stacie Christensen, the state’s data practices and open meetings director, said a law addressing law enforcement use of automated license plate readers took effect in 2015.
State statute says, “The chief law enforcement officer of every state and local law enforcement agency that maintains an automated license plate reader shall establish and enforce a written policy governing use of the reader.”
Also included in the 2015 law is an independent, biennial audit requirement. Christensen indicated the six reviews submitted so far to the Administration Department show each department is in compliance regarding data collection and classification. Three more reviews were received by Tuesday.
Still, there are detractors.
Groups, such as the ACLU, argue, in part, restrictions could be absent for potential data sharing and could ultimately infringe on individual privacy.
Supporters say such devices are an asset in investigations, including identifying possible suspects and ruling out innocent people, and enforcing laws. They also help ensure transparency.
“It’s important for government entities to be as transparent as possible,” Scott said.
“The biggest day-to-day benefit is recovering stolen vehicles,” said Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts, noting 20 such vehicles have been located at Mall of America this year.
Five marked Bloomington squad cars have the technology installed.
Across the Minnesota River, Burnsville was the first city to require body camera use.
Police Chief Eric Gieseke said his officers are turning the cameras on more often than required by policy. An average of 126 videos containing 23.1 hours of footage is uploaded each day. Storage costs have not been problematic.
“We review the video if we need to … we don’t randomly review them,” he said, adding some can be used for training purposes, as well. Persons with officer conduct concerns have been allowed to view videos.
A law that took effect Aug. 1, 2016, provides for the classification of data collected by body cameras, including data retention, destruction and audits. Gieseke said all reviews of his department have shown statutory compliance.
During a segment on potential future technology, BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said facial recognition technology is not being used by the agency he leads, nor are booking photos or driver’s license information provided to the FBI.
Members also relayed stories or anecdotes about other technology use in other places, including Stingray, a cellular phone surveillance device, and other state’s attempts to regulate new technologies.
Benjamin Feist, legislative director for the ACLU of Minnesota, expressed concern that it’s often hard to get a good grasp of how new technology is affected by current law and hard to get all parties to agree.
Sen. Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park) suggested Minnesota lawmakers create more of a broad proactive policy principle, rather than creating legislation for every piece of technology.
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