For $5.91, Tony Webster obtained data about the location of 2.1 million Minneapolis-area cars from August 30 to November 29. But for less than that, you can request information about where any particular car has been spotted in the last three months.
The Automatic License Plate Reader data has uses most probably wouldn’t find objectionable for instance, finding where a fugitive drove after committing a crime but it also has applications many would deem problematic.
Webster lists some of those problematic applications in his “Minneapolis Police release 2.1 million license plate records” report:
— A victim of domestic abuse’s daily activities could be monitored, and their places of safety could easily be made known to their abuser;
— Elected officials, diplomatic cars, and government workers could be tracked as they go around the city;
— Disability License Plates follow a special formatting, and an attacker or thief could target disabled persons’ homes;
— ALPR systems are turned on in police station parking lots, capturing police officers’ personal vehicle license plates — those license plates can easily be cross-checked and found outside of the officers’ homes or their favorite restaurants;
— An armored vehicle delivering cash or a hazmat truck’s usual route can be tracked;
— Or… just every-day surveillance of when you leave and come back to your home.
Similar concerns were raised by Minneapolis Police Department Deputy Chief Robert Allen in a recent Star Tribune report.
“If, for example, a stalker wants to see where their prey has been, they can do a public records search and we are required to provide them with information about where that vehicle has been seen by our system,” Allen said.
The Strib reports that the MPD used to store license plate data for a year, but now clears the database after three months. St. Paul stores license plate data for two weeks; the State Patrol keeps it for only two days.
More changes to Minneapolis’ policy are in the works — new MPD Chief Janeé Harteau wants the legislature to change statute next session so license plate data is private for everybody other than a particular car’s owner.
But that timeframe isn’t quick enough for Webster, a self-described designer, hacker, and “data nerd.” He calls upon the city to request that the state temporarily reclassify the information as non-public, which would alleviate concerns about plate information being used for nefarious purposes until the legislature gets around to working on a comprehensive solution.
Regarding his USB drive packed with 2.1 million license plate scans, Webster writes: “There’s a lot of data here to analyze, but it comes down to this: there is no valid reason for Minneapolis Police to save information on anyone not wanted for a crime.”
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