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Illinois Bills Would Restrict ALPRs, Help Block National License Plate Tracking Program

Two bills introduced in the Illinois state Senate would put strict limitations on the use of automated license plate reader systems (ALPRs) by the state, and in doing so, would have a major impact on federal efforts to tap into state and local systems to track millions of drivers without warrant.

Senate Bill 1351 (SB1351) was introduced by Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-1), and Senate Bill 1753 (SB1753) was introduced by Sen. Dan Biss (D-9) to curtail the problematic use of ALPRs, one of the latest technological threats to our privacy rights.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the federal government, via the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), has been tracking the location of millions of cars for nearly eight years, all without a warrant, or even public notice of the policy. The secret domestic intelligence-gathering program “scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists.”

Most of these tracking systems are operated by state and local law enforcement agencies, but are paid for by federal grant money. The DEA then taps into the local database and is able to track the whereabouts of millions of people – for the simple act of driving – without having to operate a huge network itself. In those few situations where ALPRs are operated by federal agencies, they’re generally done so with express approval of the legislature, and operational assistance from state or local law enforcement.

Since a majority of federal license plate tracking data comes from state and local law enforcement, passage of SB1351 and SB1753 would be a big step towards blocking that program from continuing in Illinois.

“No sharing of ALPR data means no federal license plate tracking program,” said Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center. “More importantly, this limits government power and advances liberty on both the state and national level.”

These bills would ban law enforcement in the state from using ALPRs as a general location-tracking tool of millions of drivers, and would ban the sharing of legitimately-obtained license plate data with outside sources. They would also prohibit their use by non-law enforcement agencies as well.

SB1351 states, in part, the following:

A law enforcement agency may only use recorded ALPR system data and historical ALPR system data for a legitimate law enforcement purpose. ALPR system data and historical ALPR system data may not be used, shared, sold, traded, or exchanged for any other purpose.

If it were determined by a court of law that information was gathered in violation of SB1351, it would rendered inadmissible during judicial proceedings.

SB1753 is not as comprehensive as SB1351 although it contains similar language. However, SB1753 would create extensive reporting requirements for the use of ALPRs throughout Illinois. The bill reads, in part:

Any law enforcement agency that uses automatic license plate reader systems… shall adopt a policy governing use of the system and conspicuously post the policy on the law enforcement agency’s Internet Web site; adopt a privacy policy to ensure that captured plate data is not shared in violation of this act or any other law and conspicuously post the privacy policy on the law enforcement agency’s Internet Web site; adopt audit procedures relating to the use of ALPR system data; and adopt and periodically update a comprehensive training program for agency employees who use or have access to ALPR system data, which fully trains the employees on safeguards in the use of ALPR system data and procedures to adhere to policies and procedures governing the use of ALPR system data.

The prohibition on data sharing in these bills would help block the nationwide, federal license-plate tracking program.

These ALPRs are also known to capture photographs of vehicle occupants. An internal DEA memo obtained by the ACLU “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.’”

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 these important bills would represent a significant step towards ending the tracking of millions of people merely for getting behind the wheel of a car.

SB1351 and SB1753 were assigned to the Senate Assignments Committee, where they will need to pass through successfully before they can receive full senate votes.

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