CHICAGO – Democratic nominee for Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias wants Illinois to protect women seeking abortion-care services from having their vehicle license plate data shared with other states and police departments, which could diminish their rights and potentially jeopardize their safety.
State Reps. Kelly Cassidy (D-14th) and Ann Williams (D-11th) have endorsed Giannoulias’ plan and pledged to sponsor the proposed legislation in Springfield.
Operated by private companies, Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) are used in every state by most metropolitan police departments to scan license plates and provide the time and location of vehicles in real-time. ALPRs allow police to read thousands of license plates per minute from cameras placed on roadways, streetlights and squad cars.
However, privacy concerns regarding the storing and sharing of ALPR data has sparked warnings about the readers. In addition, as lawmakers – including those from neighboring states – look to restrict their residents from crossing state lines for abortion-related care, along with some states offering cash rewards for turning in those seeking abortions or those who assist them, it raises new concerns that the information could be shared and abused to harm women.
“ALPRs can serve as a useful tool for law enforcement, particularly when violent crimes are committed and for recovering stolen vehicles,” Giannoulias said. “However, Illinois must enact protections to ensure the data is not used to target women seeking access to abortion services or employing it as a surveillance system to track them. Thankfully, Governor Pritzker and Illinois lawmakers are committed to ensuring that abortion remains safe and legal for women, and we must continue to do everything we can to protect the reproductive health and access to abortion for women who reside in Illinois or anywhere else.”
A recent Wired article detailed concerns about how ALPRs could be used to prevent people from traveling across state lines to abortion-safe states to obtain care. According to the article: “Once the person seeking abortion has left the state, a police department could look for license plate data in another state through the private databases, or they could obtain this data via a police department in that state. Police departments around the country regularly share ALPR data with each other, and the data is often shared with little oversight.”
“This information can be easily accessed without a warrant and used to build cases against patients and prosecute them by monitoring their traffic patterns from another state traveling into Illinois and returning home,” Cassidy said. “In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, we need to evaluate how this tracking technology is used and what steps we can take to ensure that the privacy and rights of patients seeking abortions in Illinois are not endangered. By regulating access and limiting the use, distribution and retention of ALPR information, we can protect patients who seek safe and legal access to abortion services here.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 16 states have approved legislation regulating ALPRs. Efforts to provide more protections for and restricting ALPRs from infringing on individuals’ privacy have been proposed in the past in Illinois but have failed to win approval.
Giannoulias intends to work with Cassidy and Williams to pass legislation that would: specifically limit the purpose for which ALPRs can be used (i.e. to locate drivers involved in serious crimes and stolen vehicles); specify ALPR cannot be used for tracking of individuals seeking abortion care or individuals assisting them; restricting the sharing of data with other governments and law enforcement agencies; and limiting the amount of time the data is kept.
“We want to craft sensible legislation that provides clear direction on authorized and prohibited use of these cameras, and one that prioritizes individual rights and safety,” Williams said. “Right now, these databases contain an incredible amount of sensitive personal data. Selling or sharing this data can have serious and damaging consequences on individual privacy rights. Taking action now to implement privacy protections around the use of ALPRs is absolutely critical.”