Concerned over reports that the Department of Public Safety is implementing location tracking technology in the ignition interlocks meant to keep drunken drivers off the road, a bipartisan group of legislators pledged Monday to pass legislation to halt that practice.
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, chair of the House Civil Law and Data Practices committee, spoke to reporters about her proposed bill on Monday, along with Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, who expects to be listed as co-author.
The bill, a draft of which was provided to the press, would alter Minnesota Statutes Section 171.306 to prohibit use of any ignition devices equipped with location tracking capabilities unless those functions are disabled.
“The commissioner may not establish standards that, directly or indirectly, require devices to utilize or enable location tracking capabilities,” the draft bill reads.
Further, it would strip away the Public Safety Department’s legislatively granted rulemaking exemption, canceling the department’s right to “adopt, amend and repeal rules.”
A law passed in 2010 authorized Public Safety to deploy ignition interlocks. Under the program, a first-time DUI offender with an alcohol concentration of 0.16 or above, or any second-time offender, can regain driving privileges by participating in the program.
Participants use a device about the size of a calculator with a blow tube attached. If that device detects alcohol on a driver’s breath, their car won’t work. Scott said about 11,000 Minnesotans are currently involved in the program.
She said that Public Safety’s rulemaking exemption was granted so the program could be quickly implemented. However, she said, the department was never authorized to deploy global positioning system or any other type of location tracking software as part of the program. The department apparently used that exemption to unilaterally authorize GPS-enabled ignition interlocks without either informing lawmakers or receiving their permission, she said.
Now lawmakers, criminal defense lawyers, civil libertarians and one of the five companies that provide ignition interlock services in the state have all asked the Public Safety to suspend the new requirement while the policy and legal issues are untangled.
Lesch said the location tracking element of the program, in his view, “is unconstitutional.”
Scott said she spoke with Public Safety Commissioner Mona Dohman on Friday and asked the commissioner to suspend use of location tracking. However, the commissioner gave Scott no indication that the department planned to do so, Scott said. “So we will have to run them in and have a public conversation about this,” she said.
Scott added that she has already scheduled a hearing on the matter in January during the next meeting of the committee that she chairs.
Lesch said Public Safety’s decision to deploy GPS tracking technology without informing the Legislature puts serious dent in lawmakers’ trust in the department.
Further, the issue has both Lesch and Scott concerned about how digital technology broadly is potentially being used by state and local authorities to collect, store, track and profile individual citizens’ private data. Specifically, both said they worry about use of drone technology for data collection and monitoring.
Lesch, who is both a criminal defense attorney and a Minnesota National Guard second lieutenant, said he worries that authorities might also be surreptitiously using facial recognition, fingerprint and retinal scans, metadata and other technologies to monitor the citizenry.
In an interview after the press conference, Lesch acknowledged it might be difficult to put the tech genie back in the bottle with respect to the ignition interlock program. Nonetheless, he thinks the bill—for which he predicted broad bipartisan support and easy passage—will set an important precedent about lawmakers’ expectations for citizen privacy.
“The cattle are out of the barn, I think,” he said. “But we can address this in any future legislation.”
Lesch said that Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, the outgoing chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has publicly expressed his concerns about the program, likely will push the Senate version of the bill.