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Illinois Bill To Restrict ALPRs, Help Block National License Plate Tracking Program Clears Committee

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (March 26, 2015) –  A bipartisan bill in the Illinois House that would put strict limitations on the use of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) by law enforcement in the state, and would place significant roadblocks in the way of a federal program using states to help track the location of millions of everyday people through pictures of their license plates, unanimously passed out of committee Wednesday.

Rep. Peter Breen (R) introduced House Bill 3289 (HB3289) last month. The legislation would ban the use of ALPRs with a few specific exceptions, and would prohibit long-term storage of information legally collected.

The bill passed the Judiciary – Civil Committee by an 11-0 vote.

HB3289 would only allow Illinois law enforcement to use ALPRs for traffic and parking enforcement, controlling access to secure areas, and criminal investigations. The legislation stipulates that collected data “shall not be used,shared, sold, traded, or exchanged for any other purpose and shall not be preserved for more than 30 days by a law enforcement agency” without a court order. Data must also be destroyed upon completion of an investigation. Data collected for non-criminal investigation purposes must be destroyed within 48 hours of the completion of that purpose.

These provisions would prevent the state from creating and maintaining a permanent database of stored information.

Any data gathered, stored, used, or disclosed in violation of the act would be inadmissible in court.

IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) tracks the location of millions of vehicle. They’ve engaged in this for nearly eight years, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy.

State and local law enforcement agencies operate most of these tracking systems, paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database to track the whereabouts of millions of people – for the simple act of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself.

Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, passage of SB639 would take a major step toward blocking that program from continuing in Illinois. The feds can’t access data that doesn’t exist.

Law enforcement generally configures ALPRs to store the photograph, the license plate number, and the date, time, and location of vehicles. But according to newly disclosed records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request, the DEA is also captures photographs of drivers and their passengers.

According to the ACLU,

One internal 2009 DEA communication stated clearly that the license plate program can provide “the requester” with images that “may include vehicle license plate numbers (front and/or rear), photos of visible vehicle occupants [redacted] and a front and rear overall view of the vehicle.” Clearly showing that occupant photos are not an occasional, accidental byproduct of the technology, but one that is intentionally being cultivated, a 2011 email states that the DEA’s system has the ability to store “up to 10 photos per vehicle transaction including 4 occupant photos.”

With the FBI rolling out facial a nationwide recognition program last fall, and the federal government building biometric databases, the fact that the feds can potentially access stored photographs of drivers and passengers, along with detailed location data, magnifies the privacy concerns surrounding ALPRs.

Passage of HB3289 would represent a good first step toward putting a big dent in federal plans to continue location tracking, and expanding its facial recognition program. The less data the state makes available to the federal government, the less ability they have to track people in Illinois.

HB3289 will now move on to the full House for consideration.

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