House bill would make Illinois first state to prohibit using license plate readers from tracking people seeking abortion care

Alexi Giannoulias

Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois Secretary of State

QUINCY — Legislation introduced by Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias aims to protect the privacy and safety of people seeking abortion care by restricting the use of license plate readers. 

House Bill 3326, which passed the Illinois General Assembly last month, awaits Gov. JB Pritzker’s consideration. Illinois would be the first state to prohibit the use of license plate readers from tracking people seeking abortion care or from criminalizing a person’s immigration status.

Adam Yates, chief of the Quincy Police Department, said he believes the legislation relates to other states calling Illinois to request assistance with an investigation that deals with people coming to Illinois to obtain an abortion. 

“It limits the cooperation between Illinois law enforcement agencies with license plate readers and other states who would intend to use that information for investigations related to people coming to Illinois to seek legal health care,” Yates said.

Operated by private companies, LPRs are used in every state by police departments to scan license plates and provide the time and location of vehicles in real time. Technology allows police to read thousands of license plates per minute from cameras placed on roads, streetlights and squad cars.

A press release from Giannoulias said Illinois, unlike more than 15 other states, has no regulations on how vehicle license plate data is shared, which can potentially violate the rights of individuals and could jeopardize their safety.

Yates said at a Jan. 24 meeting in City Council chambers that the biggest concern he had heard was the potential for an officer to misuse Flock technology in the future. He believes it’s his responsibility to ensure his department uses the technology for what it is intended.

“The scenario I envision is when Indiana calls Illinois and says, ‘We have rules against 13-year-olds getting abortions, and we believe a 13-year-old went into Illinois and got an abortion. We want you to help us with our investigation. We would like license plate data if you have it of this particular car,’” Yates said. “The Illinois law enforcement agency would not provide that information to the Indiana law enforcement agency that was requesting it.”

Yates said House Bill 3326 also adds a requirement that an Illinois law enforcement agency must obtain written assurance from an out-of-state law enforcement agency that any license plate data obtained from an LPR will not be used for the purposes of investigating legal health care in this state.

Illinois law permits the data collected by the cameras to be retained for up to five years. However, Yates said his department will keep images collected by the cameras on file for 30 days and then erased — unless the images are used in an active investigation.

The Quincy City Council voted in March to spend $117,600 on a two-year lease with Flock Safety for 20 LPRs to be placed around Quincy.  Flock Safety has placed its technology in nearly 200 Illinois communities, including Springfield, Rock Island, East Moline, Chatham and Jacksonville.

Several of the city right-of-way poles are up, but Yates said camera installation in Quincy is delayed because of a shortage of install technicians. The cameras to be installed on Illinois Department of Transportation right-of-ways in Quincy are going through the permitting process. Yates estimates it will take several more weeks before the installation of cameras is complete.

“No one seeking abortion care in Illinois should be harassed in any fashion, and I’m committed to enabling people to pursue and obtain the lawful healthcare they need without government interference,” Giannoulias said in the press release. “License plate readers are an important tool for law enforcement, but we need to regulate these cameras so they aren’t abused for surveillance, tracking the data of innocent people or criminalizing lawful behavior.”

“This legislation reaffirms our state’s commitment to protecting access to a person’s reproductive healthcare in Illinois,” said State Rep. Ann Williams (11th District – Chicago). “HB3326 is supported by Planned Parenthood and will protect people who are simply seeming healthcare from targeted harassment and criminal prosecution.”

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