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Vehicle data, email access among Minneapolis legislative issues

Making it more difficult for others to track your vehicle or gain access to citizens’ email addresses are two key city topics.

Making it more difficult for others to track your vehicle or gain access to your email address are two of the topics being considered by the Minneapolis City Council for its 2013 legislative agenda.

Currently, the Minneapolis Police Department uses cameras to record the license plates, time and location of vehicles. That data is now public information that can be obtained by anyone requesting the information.

“Our concern is that if it stays public data that people can use it for inappropriate purposes,” said Deputy Chief Robert Allen. The system now doesn’t allow police to inquire how it might be used.  “We’re not allowed to make a judgment,” he said.

Access to the data is controlled by about a dozen people working in the department’s Strategic Information unit.

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The department also wants to ask the state to require an audit system for searches that would include the case number, and the name of the person doing the search and requesting the search.

“I’m concerned that anybody can do a search,” Allen told City Council members as he stressed the need for a statewide policy outlining the rules for access and storage.

When the license-plate cameras were first used, the data were stored for one year but now only for 90 days.

When the plate information is gathered, it is compared to the state’s “hot list,” which includes stolen vehicles, those owned by sex offenders and individuals on the terrorism watch list. The plate numbers are also checked for those driving on a revoked license or with a warrant against them.

Minneapolis also checks for unpaid parking tickets and to see if the vehicle is tied to a crime. If there are no matches, the data are kept for 90 days.

Allen cited a Minneapolis murder case where investigators didn’t find out about the possible involvement of a vehicle until six months after the crime. At that time, the city was storing the license plate data for a year and was able to track the vehicle.

Despite that example, Allen told council members that in “the vast majority of cases we have, 90 days would be fine.”

“I’m very concerned about that,” said City Council President Barb Johnson. “There are cases that come forward two or three years hence. That kind of information would be helpful.”

“We want to get a sense of what our colleagues in law enforcement want,” said Allen, stressing the need for a statewide policy.

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Sharing email addresses

When you signed up for an email Snow Emergency alert from Minneapolis, you probably didn’t think your information was going to become public data.

But the city has been receiving requests under the Data Practices Act for the email addresses and wants the Legislature to make it clear that the email addresses are private information.

Minneapolis maintains 128 different email lists totaling 100,000 names, according to City Clerk Casey Carl. That list includes 63,400 who signed up for Snow Emergency information.

“Many subscribers would opt out if they knew that their information was being shared,” Carl told council members. The email lists have not been shared with anyone, according to Carl.

Landlord problems

When then-landlord Ron Folger lost his rental license last year, 17 families had to find a new place to live. Folger lost the licenses for all 16 of his rental properties after two were revoked during a single calendar year.

“We are reluctant to displace hundreds of people,” said Henry Reimer of Regulatory Services, talking about the problems encountered if owners of multiple rental properties assume the city won’t take action to displace so many people.

Minneapolis could ask for a court-appointed administrator to step in and manage the properties until a new owner was found, but the city first would need some changes in state law.

The presence of an administrator “allows the property to remain economically viable” during the time between owners, Reimer said. The administrator could also have repairs made using income from rental fees.

“This is good for tenants and good for property owners,” he said.

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The council will consider an entire slate of items for its legislative agenda on Nov. 15. A final vote to adopt the agenda is expected Dec. 7.