SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO) — A lawsuit accuses the Illinois State Police of operating a “dragnet surveillance” system through its use of license plate scanning cameras.

The Illinois State Police, Governor JB Pritzker, and Attorney General Kwame Raoul are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which Cook County residents Stephanie Scholl and Frank Bednarz filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The suit argues that the surveillance system is a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizure.

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The Chicago area cameras have logged more than 200 million license plates a year. If a car with a license plate is registered on a law enforcement “hot list,” police are automatically notified.

State Police began installing the cameras in 2022 in an effort to crack down on shootings along Chicago expressways.

They came about after passage of the Tamara Clayton Expressway Camera Act (Expressway Camera Act) was signed into law on July 12, 2019.  Clayton was on her way to work on Feb. 4, 2019 when she was shot and killed while driving on Interstate 57 near Cicero Avenue. 

Since then, there have been 428 automated license plate readers installed in Cook, St. Claire, Champgain, and Morgan counties. In 2024, ISP says it plans to install more in Macon, Madison, Peoria, Bureau, Lake and Winnebago, with more coming to Boone, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Henry, Kane, Kendall, LaSalle, McHenry, Rock Island, Sangamon and Will counties.

The cameras capture images of vehicle license plates, which authorities say can help them track suspects in criminal investigations.

The lawsuit alleges that the cameras may be used to catch criminals, but they are capable of more, with tracking data uploaded into national databases.

The ISP has said the camera data “shall be for law enforcement purposes only and in compliance with all applicable training, laws, and administrative rules,” and is housed within the Motorola Law Enforcement Archival Reporting Network for 90 days.

“Defendants could therefore extend the retention of such data indefinitely at their discretion,” the suit says. “ISP is tracking the movements of millions of citizens, including plaintiffs, and just holding onto that mass surveillance data in case one day some police officer decides to target plaintiffs for specific investigation — warranted or unwarranted.”

“Information obtained from the ALPR system, software, associated databases, and data shall not be disseminated to the public except as authorized or required by law,” ISP said. “Information obtained from the ALPR system, software, associated databases, and data may be disseminated to other law enforcement agencies or officers only to be used for law enforcement or public safety functions.”

The suit seeks to bar the state from operating the current camera network and prohibit future installations.

The state currently bans law enforcement agencies from other states from accessing Illinois license plate camera data with the intent of tracking or penalizing people seeking or assisting women with getting abortions.

The City of Rockford has installed its own network of license plate cameras, consisting of 100 cameras positioned throughout the city.

The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office announced the purchase of 44 new license plate scanners in May 2024.