Use of license plate readers in Illinois is target of federal lawsuit – NBC Chicago

Lawsuit accuses Illinois State Police and state officials of operating an unconstitutional “surveillance system” using license plate scanning cameras that track the whereabouts of motorists.

The suit, filed last week by Cook County residents Stephanie Scholl and Frank Bednarz, names state police, Gov. JB Pritzker and Atty. General Kwame Raoul as accused.

“The defendants follow anyone who drives to work in Cook County – or to school, or to a grocery store, or to a doctor’s office, or to a pharmacy, or to a political rally, or to a meeting “There is reason to suspect anyone of anything, and we keep this information in case they decide in the future that a citizen could be an appropriate target for law enforcement,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, “challenges the warrantless, suspicionless, and totally unreasonable tracking” as a violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The cameras — known as automated license plate readers — are described by many law enforcement officials as essential to their jobs, and they have proliferated over the past decade. The devices use software to scan the license plates of every passing car, recording the date, time, GPS coordinates and even photos.

The majority of large police departments across the country now use them. Chicago’s automated license plate readers record 200 million license plates a year, giving police detailed insight into motorists’ daily habits and offering real-time alerts on cars wanted for crimes.

In 2021, the Illinois State Police received more than $12 million in grants to expand its network of high-definition surveillance cameras after a surge in highway shootings.

The grant came a year after Pritzker signed the Tamara Clayton Expressway Camera Act, which required the state to install new cameras on highways. The act is named after a postal worker who was shot and killed while traveling to work on Interstate 57 in 2019.

Hundreds of cameras have been installed in Cook County since that law was signed, the suit says.

According to the suit, footage taken by the ISP’s cameras is stored in Motorola’s Law Enforcement Archival Reporting Network for 90 days, but this retention limit can be changed at any time.

“Defendants could therefore extend the retention of this data indefinitely at their discretion,” the lawsuit states. “The ISP tracks the movements of millions of citizens, including complainants, and stores this mass surveillance data in case one day a police officer decides to target complainants for a specific investigation – justified or unwarranted.

Driver information is collected without a warrant or suspicion, the suit claims. “ISPs don’t even have unreasonable suspicions: they don’t have any suspicions. Instead, they collect every public movement of every possible car in Illinois – and every possible car nationwide.

State police, Raoul and Pritzker’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit seeks an order barring the state from operating its current network of license plate readers and that no additional cameras be installed.

NBC Chicago

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