Virginia High Court Allows Passive Surveillance of Motorists to Resume
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that local governments can resume gathering – and keeping indefinitely — license plate and car location data.
The ruling overturns a lower court decision that banned the state’s largest county, Fairfax, from gathering and storing such information. The lower court held this type of passive surveillance violated the state’s privacy laws because it indiscriminately gathered data that could be used for any purpose.
The state supreme court’s decision did not address whether license plate and location data was useful in preventing or solving crime, or if it posed a threat to individual privacy. Instead, the court held that because the data contained no personal information – like names and addresses, which are held in separate data systems, it did not violate Virginia privacy laws.
Opponents of passive surveillance promise to change state and close the legal loophole the court used to uphold the practice. A bill that would have done just that won bipartisan approval in 2015.
But then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed the measure, saying it could “limit the tools available for legitimate law enforcement purposes and negatively impact public safety, or derail major transportation projects and jeopardize time-saving technologies that are essential to our economy, our citizens, tourism and the efficient conduct of business.”