MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Right now, police departments scan and keep millions of license plate images for future investigations.

Twenty-four state police departments scan and keep license plate images, whether the driver is guilty or innocent, comparing the images against a database of wanted criminals, stolen cars and even possible terrorists.

Bloomington police partner with the Mall of America to scan millions of cars entering its parking ramps.

“Certainly, in light of the the recent commentary about the Mall of America and terrorism, there’s probably good reason, I think, for us to have LPR at the Mall of America,” Bloomington police chief Jeff Potts said.

Minnesota lawmakers are debating a bill allowing police to keep license plate reader data for 90 days, with strict safeguards for their use.

But skeptical lawmakers are questioning whether police should be allowed to store driver data at all.

“Just because you can in this digital era, doesn’t mean you should, and just because you can, doesn’t mean I gave up my rights to have a presumption of innocence,” Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said.

License plate readers helped locate the Mendota Heights cop killer and a man throwing dangerous objects off a bridge. Police found those men because they had access to license plate data stored for weeks and months. And that’s why supporters say it’s a valuable investigative tool.

“This could happen days or weeks after the initial crime has occurred,” Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said. “If that crime scene has been completely cleaned up and sanitized, then there’s nothing left for them to go back and look at, and there may have been valuable evidence lost.”

The bill to restrict how long police can keep your license plate data would also keep all of that data private, which means no one but police could look at it.

Pat Kessler

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