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Watching and Recording: License Plate Readers Debated in Illinois

PHOTO: Legislation in Illinois would limit the use of data collected by automated license plate readers for only ongoing investigations. According to the ACLU, the cameras can read one license plate per second  amounting to nearly 28,000 plates in eight hours. Photo credit: Steve Vance/Flickr.
PHOTO: Legislation in Illinois would limit the use of data collected by automated license plate readers for only ongoing investigations. According to the ACLU, the cameras can read one license plate per second amounting to nearly 28,000 plates in eight hours. Photo credit: Steve Vance/Flickr.
April 6, 2015

CHICAGO - Mounted on police cars or sites around town, automated license plate readers are monitoring the coming and going of thousands of Illinois motorists every day.

The cameras read license plates as a system records the date, time and location of each passing vehicle. According to Adam Schwartz, senior lawyer with the ACLU of Illinois, the technology is unregulated – and violates privacy rights.

"The government asserts, 'Oh, we need this, because we might have a cold murder case. There might be a crime that comes up later and this will give us investigative leads,'" says Schwartz. "We understand that, but it is not the way our society should operate that the government keeps track of innocent people."

Now under consideration in the Illinois Legislature, HB 3289 would limit the use of automated license plate reading systems to traffic and parking enforcement, controlling access to secure areas, and current criminal investigations. Similar legislation has been introduced or is pending in more than a dozen other states.

Schwartz says the legislation also stipulates that information collected by law enforcement cannot be exchanged for any other purpose, and not kept for more than 30 days without a court order.

"So the government has to destroy its own information within 30 days," says Schwartz, "and the government can't buy more than 30-day-old information from the private sector."

According to the ACLU, the cameras can read one license plate per second, amounting to nearly 28,000 plates in eight hours. Supporters say the measure would stop the creation of a permanent database of stored information. Opponents say the data collected is not used to track people in real time, and that the legislation could hinder criminal investigations.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL