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Lake County, Ill., Will Soon Allow License Plate Readers

Notwithstanding concerns about privacy and how data might be used, Lake County will now permit its municipalities to install automated license plate readers on roads owned by the county.

Automated license plate reader
(TNS) — Despite concerns about privacy and potential uses of data, Lake County officials have been given the go-ahead to create a permit process for municipalities interested in installing automatic license plate readers along county-owned roadways.

County Board members on the Public Works, Planning and Transportation Committee said at a meeting Wednesday they believe the technology can be a tool to help police agencies across the county solve crimes, particularly as they are tied to vehicles coming in and leaving an area.

Agencies interested in installing readers on county roads will be able to apply for a permit through the county's Department of Transportation. Officials said the new policy will be similar to other permitting already done by the department. With the go-ahead Wednesday, no other approval is needed, officials said.

Flock Safety, a vendor that offers plate readers and works with some villages in the county, gave a presentation at the meeting explaining how the technology works. Bailey Quintrell, the company's vice president of strategy and partnerships, said the goal of the cameras is not to raise revenue, collect data or issue tickets. It is to help stop crime, he said.

"Our technology is totally focused on crime," Quintrell said. "It's about having evidence to solve crimes when it happens, and to prevent it from happening."

Questions about liability and whether the readers violate peoples' privacy were also brought up. But officials clarified that since the issue at-hand deals only with permitting, the county would not itself be involved in any agreement between a municipality and vendor.

This means that the county would not own any of the data collected from the readers, nor would it be responsible for it. Officials compared the permits to that of a sign a municipality might install along a road.

"We're just giving them the right to put the pole in the ground," Melanie Nelson of the state's attorney's office said at the meeting.

However, that changes if the sheriff's office became interested in pursuing plate readers, which would mean the county itself would control and own the data gathered from the readers. Officials said that kind of policy could involve a discussion at a later date.

While several board members said they agreed allowing plate readers would help law enforcement, some were still concerned about the privacy issues that could arise from the data falling into the wrong hands. District 16 board member Terry Wilke said he worries who will have access to the information after its collected, and what they can do with it.

"These kinds of things get out of hand real quickly," Wilke said. "We're in kind of uncharted waters."

District 5 board member Kevin Hunter made the point that plate readers are in a lot of places, including toll roads and airports.

"These agencies that are very big players in our county have been using this for a long, long time," Hunter said.

District 6 board member John Wasik agreed with Hunter's point about tracking being everywhere, but said that the county has to be careful with what happens to the data. He added that he supports its use to reduce crime.

"We shouldn't look at this through rose-colored glasses," he said. "If we can reduce crime — catch bad guys — let's do it. But let's be very careful how we use this."

The item was originally brought up at the committee's Dec. 1 meeting after the city of Zion asked to install plate readers along county highways that run through town. At that point, there was no policy for plate readers on county roads, meaning they were prohibited.

Other municipalities in the past have also expressed interest in plate readers.

©2022 Lake County News-Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.