Melissa Hill's new blog allows you to "Track the Police" using public data
See a car like the one on the right around town? Send the plate information to Hill (left), and she'll find out where its been.
In September 2011, Melissa Hill was the first person arrested in connection with Occupy MN protests. Following a lawsuit claiming she was wrongfully trespassed from public property, she received a $15,000 settlement for her trouble.
Hill has now resurfaced with a new blog, "Track the Police," devoted to using public Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) data to keep tabs on the movements of law enforcement vehicles.
This summer, the Star Tribune reported on the surprising amount of publicly available information gathered by Minneapolis' eight mobile cameras and two stationary ones:
One of Minneapolis' license plate cameras.
Track the Police
On Aug. 3, a mobile camera spotted Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's city-owned car on 5th Avenue downtown. On Aug. 7, it found the car again on Nicollet Island. On Aug. 9, another camera saw the mayor's car on a side street near the University of Minnesota.
All of that data resides in a city of Minneapolis database containing millions of license plates scans, captured by devices mounted on city police and traffic vehicles. As a Star Tribune public records request shows, knowing someone's license plate number gives anyone access to city data about where that vehicle has been seen.
The cameras are increasingly popular with law enforcement agencies locally and nationally because they can spot criminals and other wanted persons in real time. But without a state law, the data is public and can be stored indefinitely. In Minneapolis, location data is stored for one year. St. Paul discards it after 14 days, while the State Patrol erases it in 48 hours.
Hill came up with idea of using the cameras to track law enforcement vehicles in the Twin Cities and also in other cities where ALPR data is public. From her blog:
How do I know that the ALPR data you posted is of a law enforcement vehicle?
The pictures and data released on this blog are only of law enforcement vehicles. In some submissions, the photographer was able to get a clear photo that shows the dashboard sign or reason why it was deemed a law enforcement vehicle. (e.g. a parked car with a dashboard signs saying "Homeland Security Official Business"). The blogger only requested data practice information when she had a strong reason to believe that that the car is a vehicle owned by law enforcement. Additionally, the blog will also accept submission from others and review them to make sure that we are only posting cars that are owned/operated by law enforcement.
The blog, which just went live last week, already has entries tracking the recent movements of two FBI vehicles around Minneapolis.
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