This session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers (organized by the ACLU) took a significant step towards personal freedom by passing SB 965, which put strict limits on the ability of state and local governments to collect personal information, when the data is of “unknown relevance” and not part of an actual investigation.
The legislation was initially motivated by the use of License Plate Readers, but eventually encompassed other modern “Orwellian” technologies which can vacuum up cell phone records, email records, Internet search records and other personal data – and use them at the government’s discretion. All of this violates our fundamental right as citizens, which is to be left alone when we’re causing no trouble.
My bill passed the Senate unanimously (38-0) and received only 2-3 “no” votes in the House. I believe the final vote on the conference report, which utilized the broad “surveillance technology” language, was unanimous.
Today, I learned that the Governor will be amending this bill to essentially destroy its purpose: (i) by limiting it to License Plate Readers (which is merely the latest surveillance technology) and (ii) by allowing governments to keep this unauthorized data for sixty days, even where there is no possible reason for doing so.
The justification for this quasi-veto is that our bill might threaten the use of “body cameras,” which is not true since those images are obviously relevant to the officer’s interaction with a defined suspect. It’s also told to me that certain counties (i.e. Arlington) hold the plate images for a year, so that sixty days is a “compromise” measure.
No, it’s not. The whole purpose of constitutional government is that government only has those powers authorized by law. Nobody has authorized “surveillance technology” used without a warrant and or investigatory purpose against ordinary and unsuspecting citizens. Why should we have to show an injury? Why should there be a compromise?
SB 965 was a major step forward for personal freedom and civil liberty. It was supported by a truly novel alliance of supporters and led by civil liberty advocates. This amendment leaves it in tatters — and does so based on arguments that were conclusively rejected by the legislative process just weeks ago.
I trust the Assembly will reject these amendments and keep this bill alive. The citizens of Virginia deserve that much.