Surveillance Showdown in Virginia

Virginia is poised to lead the nation in limiting mass surveillance by law enforcement agencies. Only one thing stands in its way: the governor’s amendments. Tell your lawmakers to stand by their convictions and defend your privacy on April 15.

A landslide majority in the Virginia legislature passed a series of bills to place strict boundaries on how police use drones, automatic license plate readers, and other mass surveillance technologies. But Gov. Terry McAuliffe, siding with law enforcement over regular citizens, has demanded the legislature pass amendments that would hobble the regulations.

Instead of limiting license plate reader data retention to seven days, the governor wants the data kept for 60 days. Instead of requiring a warrant for all law enforcement use of drones, he wants to create a back door to allow prosecutors to use evidence collected by drones without a warrant.

If the General Assembly votes to reject the amendments on April 15 and two-thirds vote to pass the laws, the strong, original bills will be veto-proof. They will become law whether the governor signs them or not. Tell your state delegate and senator to stand up for civil liberties and privacy by reaffirming these crucial pieces of legislation.

Details on the bills:

S.B. 965 and H.B. 1674: This legislation prevents police from using surveillance technologies to collect personal information on Virginians when the collection isn’t connected to a criminal investigation. With license-plate readers, data retention would be limited to seven days unless the data is being used in an active criminal investigation.

H.B. 2125 and S.B. 1301: This legislation would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using unmanned aerial systems except in certain emergencies. Under this bill, prosecutors cannot use evidence collected by drones for non-law enforcement purposes (such as drones for monitoring wildfires or traffic) in court.