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Safe keeping: VA State Police record license plates, keep massive database

By   /   October 10, 2013  /   3 Comments

RECORDING LICENSES: The ACLU of Virginia says state police recorded license plates at political rallies, but state police say the information was limited and is now deleted.

Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA — The ACLU of Virginia has documents showing state police collected license plate information from people attending a political rally and stored that data in a massive database.

Using the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the American Civil Liberties Union found state police used automatic license plate readers on the vehicles of people attending President Obama’s 2009 presidential inauguration, as well as earlier campaign rallies for Obama and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

In keeping a database of millions of license plates and targeting political activity, state police “crossed well over the line from legitimate law enforcement to oppressive surveillance,” the ACLU said.

“These drivers were not suspected of or connected to any crime — their only offense was practicing their First Amendment rights to speak freely and assemble peacefully,” Rebecca Glenberg, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia, said in a post on the ACLU website.

But Corinne Geller, public relations manager for the VSP, said police collected license plate data at political rallies purely for safety purposes; car bombs are a concern at such events. The information was sparse — just the plate and tag numbers, unless, however, those numbers related to an ongoing investigation, Geller said.

“The reason they were being used at the political events was actually at the security of the events. It’s not unusual for a stolen vehicle to be used as a car bomb or as some way to infiltrate,” Geller told Watchdog.org.

“We had no idea who went to those political rallies. Because all you were getting was a plate and a tag.”

The VSP earlier this year sought an opinion from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on the practice of recording and keeping license data. Cuccinelli said collecting plate information in a “continuous, passive” manner — not because it’s specifically related to a criminal matter — violates Virginia’s Government Data Collection and Dissemination Act.

State police now destroy license information within 24 hours of collecting it, Geller said.

But the ACLU says Virginia could be one step away from returning to its database practices, and state lawmakers must step in to prevent it.

A return to “passive data collection should not be just a bad Attorney General opinion away — our lawmakers must act to clearly prohibit the VSP from resurrecting this surveillance in the future,” Glenberg writes.

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at katie@watchdogvirginia.org.

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Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org's Virginia Bureau. Her work has appeared in places like Drudge Report, Washington Examiner, Reason and Human Events, and she has made appearances on Fox News and NBC4. An alumna of the National Journalism Center, Katie is a member of Investigative Reporters Editors. She graduated with a journalism degree and highest honors from Biola University in L.A., where she ran the student newspaper. After college, she reported for a mid-sized newspaper in Santa Barbara, Calif. Her work has earned her "Best in Show" and two first-place awards from the Virginia Press Association.

  • palintologist

    Surely, if he’s elected, Terry McAuliffe, Barry’s BFF, would NEVER countenance behavior such as this!

    /sarc off

  • Scott Guinness

    A baby was removed because “mother was too overwhelmed with her commitments”. That’s right, it’s all it takes to terminate parental rights in Arlington, and if a child lost a few ounces at birth or had an asthma attack, it’s a sure reason for termination of parental rights. Federal guidelines for termination of parental rights require significant evidence. There was no evidence of severe abuse or neglect, chronic drug use or alcohol dependence, long-term mental illness, and abandonment in any of the cases as required by law to establish the need for termination of parental rights. The terminations were clearly not in the children’s best interests, parents love them and continue to fight for them, it only provided adoption bonuses and milking of the federal money thanks to Arlington Board so called democrats cover up, if not direct support and involvement in this crimes against Arlington families, Moran’s first wife, Mary Craig (Moran) is a county prosecutor. Don’t let the abusers to continue with the cover up, vote this Moranocrats out of Virginia. Removing children from good parents is child abuse: http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/three-strikes-for-arlington-judge/Content?oid=2166071

  • Scott Guinness

    Stop the suffering of Arlington families: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/removeestherwiggins/

Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau, is in no way affiliated with "The Virginia Watchdog". Any similarities between Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau and "The Virginia Watchdog" is completely coincidental and unintentional. Any inquiries into "The Virginia Watchdog" may be done through their site.

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