Lake County officials wary of license plate readers' potential privacy issues

  • A Flock Safety license plate reader camera uses a proprietary algorithm to identify a license plate, vehicle make, type and color.

    A Flock Safety license plate reader camera uses a proprietary algorithm to identify a license plate, vehicle make, type and color. Courtesy of Flock Safety

  • A Flock Safety license plate reader camera uses a proprietary algorithm to identify a license plate, vehicle make, type and color.

    A Flock Safety license plate reader camera uses a proprietary algorithm to identify a license plate, vehicle make, type and color. Courtesy of Flock Safety

 
 
Updated 12/4/2021 4:01 PM
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information from Flock Safety.

Lake County officials want to know more about how data is used before determining whether automatic license plate readers should be allowed on county-owned highway rights of way.

Members of the county board's public works, transportation and planning committee agree high-speed cameras can help law enforcement but are wary of unintended consequences involving potential privacy issues.

 

"There are some concerns of who has access to this information and when," said committee member John Wasik of Grayslake.

"Our responsibility is things are not always used as intended," said committee member Ann Maine of Lincolnshire.

The high-speed, computer-controlled cameras capture license plate numbers, location, date and time, a photograph of the vehicle, the driver and/or passengers.

In early October, the county staff was directed to study the possibility of allowing readers to be installed along several county highways in Zion's municipal limit. The city already has readers in its jurisdiction and wants to add more.

"The push to our community is to improve the safety of citizens by using technology," Zion police Chief Eric Barden told the committee.

Zion's provider, Atlanta-based Flock Safety, said it doesn't have a formal agreement or partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union but has spoken to them, including the Illinois chapter, regarding the company's positions and why the cameras operate the way they do. Flock says it has worked with policingproject.org/ to develop its civil liberties policy.

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Several other communities also have notified the Lake County Division of Transportation they are considering using the readers, according to Shane Schneider, director of transportation and county engineer.

As proposed, the county would not operate the cameras but grant a permit to a given municipality to allow them to be installed. Conditions would be determined.

Schneider said the Illinois Department of Transportation in the Chicago area as well as Du­Page and Kane counties allow license plate readers by permit. Will County allows them by formal agreement, Schneider said.

Barden and others say data is not stored more than 30 days and is not used for routine traffic matters but can alert police of the location of a vehicle associated with a criminal investigation, for example.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Flock worked with the ACLU to ensure there was no "overreach" by government involving the information, Barden said.

The general public wouldn't have access to the data and the county could put reasonable conditions on permits "to make sure the broader interests of the public are protected," he said.

Committee member Jessica Vealitzek of Hawthorn Woods said she didn't oppose allowing the cameras but was "concerned about oversight of how this information is used."

The committee, which makes recommendations to the full county board, continued discussion to a future meeting to possibly include a presentation by Flock Safety, which provides Zion's camera system.

The company also is working with Libertyville, Vernon Hills and dozens of other communities in the suburbs.

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