Do you have the right to drive to work, school and Church without your government tracking you? That is the question the ACLU and other privacy advocates are asking as it has come to light that law enforcement agencies in Virginia and across the nation are logging the movements of registered license plates regardless of whether the driver is law abiding or not.
Law enforcement is arguing that the tracking is justified in light of the potential benefit of catching criminals. The tools in question are license plate readers that are attached to police vehicles and scan any and all license plates it comes into contact with.
Each license plate reader has four cameras facing every direction that constantly scan and photograph plates and cross-check them with existing databases. The units also record when and where each plate is read.
A recent Virginia Attorney General Opinion by Ken Cuccinelli, current GOP candidate for Governor, stated that while the readers are legal for criminal investigations, the “passive” recorded data may violate the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act.
Different VA law enforcement agencies have different polices on how widely the units are used. That kind of discretion is part of the problem. Some agencies claim that the information is not saved. Some claim that they are only saved for a certain amount of time.
In my Virginia city, the police department has been retaining the license plate photographs and scans for almost an entire year and have not identified a time where the data will be deleted. The police department has refused to release any information pursuant to state FOIA requests and is photographing any license plate they have come into contact with.
Virginia conservatives seem to be pretty split as to how much of a surveillance state we want in favor of law enforcement and how much personal liberty we want. There is little doubt that Virginians are one of the many states facing a gradually militarized police force and technology is doing nothing little for the common man in this discussion.
While all republicans want a safe and law abiding community, we also need to remember first and foremost that the government – federal, state and local are extensions of the people. The citizenry are the bosses of government and law enforcement and we deputize them to do our bidding. And we don’t deserve to be surveilled without reasonable articulable suspicion (at a minimum) of a crime being committed. The Attorney General needs to articulate his position in a way that Virginia conservatives can unite behind to start pushing for privacy in the Commonwealth.