Lake in the Hills to get license plate readers, despite ‘Orwellian vibe’

License plate readers will soon be coming to Lake in the Hills despite some questions about their use.

The village board last week approved a contract to install a dozen readers, which take photos of license plates as cars drive by. Village documents indicate the readers also capture cars’ make, model and color.

Officials in communities that have the technology said they’ll use the devices in a way that protects privacy. However, residents and civil liberties advocates have expressed skepticism that they will.

A new state law that went into effect Jan. 1 says that “interstate agreements” regarding license plate readers can’t use the technology on people coming to Illinois for abortions, according to The Associated Press.

Atlanta-based Flock Safety, the company behind many local municipalities’ automatic license plate recognition systems, gave the Lake in the Hills Police Department free access to its database starting in 2022, Deputy Chief Matt Mannino told the village board last week.

Mannino said Flock Safety returned in late 2023 with a request that the village install cameras or pay to access the data.

The village chose to use Flock Safety. Officials confirmed the cameras didn’t go out to bid because the price tag wasn’t high enough to trigger a competitive bidding process.

Lake in the Hills plans to install 12 cameras to start with for $42,800 for this year and $36,000 annually in future years. Officials plan to use dollars from the State Seizure Fund, which Mannino said comes “directly from drug investigations, primarily,” to cover the cost.

According to the contract, the data retention period for the cameras will be 30 days. The initial term of the contract is 12 months, with a renewal term of 24 months.

Mannino said the technology “has been critical” to solving some cases, including a felony theft case where the police had only a partial license plate and description of the vehicle.

Still, village trustees raised questions and concerns about using the license plate cameras during a meeting.

Though he ultimately voted to support the cameras, Trustee Stephen Harlfinger called the technology a “hard pill to swallow.”

“Anything (can get) hacked into,” Harlfinger said. “I’m still not 100% behind this.”

Mannino said two cameras would be located on Randall Road since the cameras cover only two lanes of traffic. He added the cameras operate similarly to I-PASS technology.

“You can’t just run people’s information,” Mannino said.

Trustee Diane Murphy asked if the police hypothetically flag a red Toyota sedan, will they flag all red Toyota sedans that pass through the reader?

“We wouldn’t take every red car” and run plates, Mannino said. He added all the data accessed is audited to ensure it’s being used properly.

Harlfinger told the Northwest Herald he thinks the technology has an “Orwellian vibe.”

As for where in town the technology will be located, village documents say: “The cameras will be strategically placed at locations where there are high volumes of traffic or key locations where vehicles enter our community.”

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