MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers opened hearings Thursday on a bill to regulate how long police can keep computer images of your car and license plate.

Police store tens of thousands of those images — even if you haven’t committed a crime.

State Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, supports the practice. His bill allows police to retain images of a car and license plate for up to 90 days, with new restrictions on who can access the data.

“What I think we have here is a valuable tool for law enforcement to use to solve crimes, to find missing persons,” Latz said.

But critics say police shouldn’t keep the images at all.

Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says it’s an invasion of privacy — as if police attached a GPS device to every car.

“These systems will allow the government to identify innocent movements of people who attend political protests, who attend political events and also identify people who are attending a particular church or who are seeing a particular doctor,” Nelson said.

Police say the camera technology has helped them numerous times, including locating Brian Fitch, the man accused of killing a Mendota Heights police officer.

But some lawmakers warn that its benefits come at the cost of personal liberty.

“There’s a growing, might I say, a law enforcement industrial complex that’s being created by corporations and often times with the collusion of other governments in the United States,” Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said.

Nineteen states have already enacted laws regulating how police can use license plate readers.

Pat Kessler

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