Where was John Faust when the cops were pulling this stunt? Throw the bum out of office
I'm John Faust. I'm on the Board of Supervisors and I'm terrified of the cops, I've never done anything to bring them under control and here's an example of something else I didn't do. I didn't stop them or even speak out against the cops collecting hundreds of thousands of license plates of innocent citizens for no reason the cops can explain.
So remember Vote Faust, if you dumb enough to elect me once I'll probably get away with it again!
ACLU Sues Fairfax County Police Over License-Plate Data
FAIRFAX, Va. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is suing Fairfax County police over a policy in which they store data collected on thousands of drivers through the use of license-plate readers.
The civil-liberties group filed the suit Tuesday in Fairfax County Circuit Court. The ACLU alleges that keeping a database of information collected through license-plate readers amounts to an illegal invasion of privacy.
In 2013, Virginia’s attorney general advised state police that data collected by plate readers is personal information under state law and can’t be kept unless it’s part of a specific criminal investigation.
The ruling prompted state police to stop collecting data, but local police agencies, including Fairfax, still collect and share the data.
A county spokesman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday evening.
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VIRGINIA MAN SUES POLICE OVER LICENSE PLATE DATABASE
In what appears to be a legal first, a Virginia man has sued the Fairfax County Police Department for collecting images of his license plate in a massive database.
Harrison Neal, a Fairfax resident, filed the suit after learning that his license plate had been scanned by an automatic license plate reader twice last year and stored in a police database, even though he was not a suspect in a criminal investigation. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed the lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of Neal.
Although individuals have filed suits to obtain records stored in such databases, this is the first case known to target a law enforcement agency over an alleged illegal use of a database.
The database, the complaint (.pdf) asserts, violates a Virginia statute—the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act—which prohibits government agencies from collecting, storing, or disseminating the personal information of individuals unnecessarily.
Automatic license plate readers have become a hot topic in recent years, akin to the government’s warrantless use of GPS trackers on vehicles and stingrays or IMSI catchers that are used to track the location of cell phones and other mobile devices.
The readers, often mounted on a vehicle or in a fixed location, use cameras and optical character recognition technology to take images of license plates and store them in searchable databases. Insurance agencies and impounders use them to locate stolen vehicles or vehicles belonging to people who are behind on their payments. But law enforcement agencies also use them.
Civil liberties groups consider the readers and databases a violation of privacy because it’s possible to discover a lot about a person simply by recording the location of their car over a period of time. The readers can also capture much more than license plates. In California, a computer security consultant named Michael Katz-Lacabe discovered that authorities in his San Francisco Bay Area town had collected images of his two cars 112 times in a database, including one image taken in 2009 that showed him and his two daughters exiting one of the cars while it was parked in their driveway.
But proponents of the technology argue that the data collected is innocuous compared to other data like cell-phone location information.
“We’re not insensitive to people’s right to privacy,” Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association said in 2013 over a battle in his state about license plate databases. “If Big Brother is going to abuse information, there’s better information to abuse than this.”
Neal discovered images of his car in the database maintained by the Fairfax Police Department after filing a public records request recently. In response, he received two sheets of paper containing an image of his car, along with a chart indicating the times and dates the images were taken and a map showing a street location, believed to be the location of the reader when it snapped the images.
But Virginia’s state law should have prevented his images from being stored. In February 2013, the state’s attorney general issued an opinion advising the State Police that automatic license plate readers do collect personal information, as defined by the Act, and therefore agencies cannot legally collect and store that data unless it’s related to a specific criminal investigation. The pronouncement came in part after it was discovered that Virginia State Police had used license plate readers in 2008 to collect information about people who had attended rallies for Sarah Palin and Barack Obama during the presidential election that year.
Subsequent to the attorney general’s pronouncement, the Virginia State Police stopped storing license plate records and established a policy for purging such information within 24 hours after being collected by a reader, unless the information is relevant to a criminal investigation.
But, according to the ACLU of Virginia, other government agencies in the state have failed to follow suit. The Fairfax Police Department, for example, stores license plate images for up to a year, regardless of their relevance to an investigation.
The department also has an agreement with law enforcement agencies in Maryland and the District of Columbia to share information collected in its database.
“Like many other technologies, ALPRs have legitimate law enforcement uses,” Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia said in a statement. “We do not object to the real-time use of ALPRs to compare license plate numbers to a current ‘hot list’ of vehicles involved in current investigations. The danger to privacy comes when the government collects tens of thousands of license plate records so it can later find out where people were and when. The intrusion is magnified in the Washington, D.C. area, where multiple law enforcement agencies may access each other’s information.”
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May 6, 2015 | By Dave Maass
Virginia Governor Signs Warrant Requirement for Drones, Rejects License Plate Reader Limits
With broad and near-unanimous bipartisan support, the Virginia General Assembly passed a series of bills this year to defend the public’s right to privacy from new mass surveillance technologies.
To his credit, Gov. Terry McAuliffe almost immediately signed a bill to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before tracking people’s mobile phones with cell tower emulators, often called “stingrays.” But he initially balked at two other bills: one that would have also required police to get a warrant before using drones and another that would’ve placed strict limitations on other mass surveillance technologies, including a seven-day limit on the retention of locational data collected through automatic license plate readers (ALPR).
McAuliffe sent these two measures back to the legislature with suggested amendments, who sent them right back to his desk with only the slightest changes. The message was clear: these protections are what Virginians want and what they deserve.
The second time around, McAuliffe signed the drone bill, but he vetoed the ALPR bill, parroting the flawed talking points of the device manufacturers and law enforcement lobby groups:
Many localities in Virginia retain this data for 60 days to two years. Seven days is a substantial reduction. Additionally, law enforcement agencies demonstrate that crimes are often not reported until several weeks later. Under this bill, essential data would not be available at the time of those reports. This is particularly concerning when considering implications for the National Capitol Region, where cross-state collaboration and information-sharing are essential to responding to potential criminal or terrorist activity occurring near Virginia’s borders.
What McAuliffe fails to mention is those law enforcement agencies are already breaking Virginia’s Data Act by storing ALPR data, as the Virginia Attorney General determined in a 2013 legal opinion [PDF]. He also pays little attention to the threat to personal privacy that ALPRs represent: by collecting information on every driver, police are treating the entire population as if they’re suspects in a criminal investigation. Even more worrisome is how these cameras, which are capable of collecting thousands of locational data points a day, can potentially reveal the intimate details of a person’s life, including religious preferences, political affiliations, medical conditions, and romantic relationships. Indeed, as the ACLU of Virginia notes:
In 2013, public records revealed that during the 2008 election, Virginia State Police used ALPRs to collect information about people attending rallies for candidates Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, and later targeted vehicles crossing from Virginia to Washington for Obama’s inauguration.
McAuliffe also failed to address some of the more questionable techniques used by ALPR companies to shield their products from public scrutiny, such as contracts that forbid agencies from talking candidly publicly about the technology. In Lansing, Michigan, police have given up on ALPRs because they were unreliable and drained the batteries of their cars. In San Francisco, police have been sued after a false positive resulted in a confrontation between officers and an innocent government employee.
The ACLU of Virginia isn’t giving up. Five days after McAuliffe signed the bills, the organization filed a lawsuit [PDF] against the Fairfax County Police Department, which, despite the Attorney General’s guidance, has been storing ALPR data for up to a year and sharing that data with other law enforcement agencies in the region. If successful, the lawsuit could potentially have an even stronger impact on ALPR limits than what the bill would have provided.
We're very proud of the hundreds of EFF supporters in Virginia who sent letters to their lawmakers and tweeted at the governor about these measures. And, again, we commend McAuliffe for signing bills to limit the use of stingrays and drones, but we’ll be rooting for the ACLU as they pursue other means to challenge invasive technologies such as ALPRs.