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August 2, 2017

The ACLU of Virginia has appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia to overturn a circuit court ruling that would allow police to continue using automated license plate readers (ALPRs) to mass surveil the public.

The ACLU-VA is suing the Fairfax County Police Department on behalf of Harrison Neal, whose license plate number, including the time, date, and location of his whereabouts, was collected and stored by the police department despite it not having clearly established its need or any connection to a criminal investigation. FCPD retains all information it collects for one year in case it might become useful in some future, speculative investigation.

In the appeal, the ACLU-VA argues that FCPD’s practices are subject to and violate the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act (Data Act). The Data Act regulates and limits the government from collecting, storing, or disseminating personal information about anyone without a reason established in advance for doing so.

A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge ruled in November that license plate numbers are not personal information covered by the Data Act, however. The ACLU-VA filed its appeal with the state supreme court on Tuesday.

“We strongly maintain that FCPD’s ALPR program is regulated by the Data Act,” said ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “The police cannot evade the law by indiscriminately collecting, storing and disseminating our personal information. The Data Act was passed to curb this exact type of government abuse.”