StarTribune reports that several police agencies in Ramsey County are adding automatic license plate scanners to their surveillance arsenal on the roadways. The devices should be operational by mid-February. Agencies in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hennepin County, Washington County, and several other jurisdictions already are using them.
The scanners allow law enforcement to read license plates automatically and run the information through the government databases. Officers then are alerted via their squad car computers whether any problem exists with the scanned vehicle. In addition, the scanners are located at fixed locations within the metro area and similarly collect data and alert law enforcement to suspected criminal activity.
While these scanners are effective at tracking stolen vehicles, they also alert the police to drivers who have a suspended or revoked license/registration or an active warrant.
Whether used in squad cars or fixed locations, the scanners collect data on drivers and their specific location with the metro area. Privacy advocates have raised concerns about the collection, storage, and sharing of such data. For example, the StarTribune reported in 2012 that it had obtained location data on the vehicle of former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Clearly, general disclosure of such data could be used for nefarious purposes.