Drones and license plate readers may get scrutiny

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ST. PAUL — A new commission set up to study Minnesota’s privacy and data practices laws could look at rules for drones, license plate readers on police cruisers and abuse of government data, commission members said Tuesday.

The Legislative Commission on Data Practices met near the state Capitol for the first time to start brainstorming issues to tackle before the Legislature reconvenes in 2015. State lawmakers created the panel last session amid concern that open-government and privacy issues are growing faster than the laws to deal with them.

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, a Lakeville Republican and the commission chair, said the group will meet six to eight times a year to examine “emerging or perpetual issues that never seem to get enough time or attention during the legislative session.”

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The commission, made up of four appointees each from the state House and Senate, will play only an advisory role. Any law changes must still go through the Legislature and be signed by the governor.

With some small unmanned aircrafts available for just a few hundred dollars, Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, said the Legislature will have to address some privacy concerns. He said he also wants to look into some unforeseen consequences from the so-called Timberjay bill, which made private companies’ contracts with the state subject to Minnesota’s open records law.

Lesch and several other commission members said underlying many of the emerging privacy concerns is that neither legislators nor the public know what technologies government agencies may be using to collect data.

As an example, lawmakers pointed to police departments’ use of automated license plate readers. License plate readers store away locations of cars into a database, and for years they were used in Minnesota with no state laws governing how that information can be kept.

“They kept it all for six years before we even knew about it,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

A temporary ruling from the Department of Administration made that information private, but a permanent law has “proved an elusive issue” in the Legislature for the past two years, Lesch said.