Illinois Bill Limits Automated License Plate readers

Published April 29, 2015

SPRINGFIELD — A bill to regulate what police can do with information gathered by automated license plate readers and how long they can keep that information passed the Illinois House on Friday.

The measure by Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, restricts use of the information to certain law enforcement uses, prohibits transfer to private third parties and says the government can keep the information for no more than 30 months.

House Bill 3289 passed by a vote of 75-24 with 8 members not voting.

The technology is already in use in Illinois and without regulation, Breen said, adding it has been used to record attendees of gun shows and mosques.

“By ensuring the disposal of the data you ensure you don’t have these long-term problems where (government) is tracking people merely because of the color of the skin or their political beliefs or the beliefs on any issue,” Breen said.

The measure by the conservative suburban legislator had co-sponsors from across the political spectrum and was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Breen even wryly introduced the bill saying, “this is the inaugural and possible only time I will carry an ACLU measure.”

Some House members, apparently not familiar with the automated license plate readers, were confused and argued Breen and the bill’s co-sponsors were trying to authorize the technology or create a police power.

Not so, they said. The machines are already in unregulated use and without limits on how long information could be stored or how it could be shared.

“If you don’t like them, vote for this bill,” Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., R-Mundelein said of the automated plate readers. “This bill is going to regulate them; this is a pro-freedom bill. Pro-freedom is on display here today.”

Said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Chicago, “We can’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. This is a good start on restricting use of these cameras and getting the data under control and protecting our privacy.”

Breen said he’d have preferred his bill as originally proposed, with a 30-day limit on information storage.

But by extending the time frame, law enforcement agencies and associations originally opposed the bill were brought on board, he said.

Breen said he also understood the stored data could be of legitimate use in in the investigation of fresh unsolved crimes, cold cases, hit-and-run accidents and the like.

Pressed on whether all of the objecting law enforcement groups had dropped their opposition, Breen said, “We will not move this bill in the Senate without the agreement of law enforcement.”

Each individual license plate reader can capture thousands of license plates per hour, critics say.

“You can imagine that if you deploy those readers across your city, that essentially becomes a tracking mechanism for any citizen of that city who travels in an automobile,” Breen said in an earlier interview.

The storage of the information concerns privacy advocates, as databases could be compiled to allow the retrieval and examination of a person’s movements for any given period of time. Essentially, government could build a map of a person’s past movements.

Mark Fitton ([email protected]) is a reporter for the Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. An earlier version of this article first appeared at

Reprinted with permission.