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February 27, 2015

Richmond, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia today applauded the Virginia General Assembly for the important steps taken during the 2015 Session to secure the privacy and due process rights of all Virginians.  Remarking on the success of legislation that protects innocent Virginians from mass surveillance, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia, said “We commend legislators on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of the Assembly for making the privacy and liberty of Virginians a priority this session.“  

She continued, “While we recognize that law enforcement has a responsibility to protect public safety, doing so must not translate into automatic forfeiture of the privacy rights of innocent Virginians.”

As the General Assembly session draws to a close, several bills establishing guidelines for how and when law enforcement can use new technologies like Stingrays, drones, and automatic license readers to collect, use, and maintain personal information have passed the Senate and House of Delegates. The bills, which are the result of joint work by members of the bipartisan Ben Franklin Liberty Caucus, now await the Governor’s signature.

“As technology advances – technology that allows law enforcement to cheaply collect and store more and more information about us and our everyday movements – we must ensure that police and government regulatory bodies do not abuse their power by using emerging technology to encroach on our liberty,” Gastañaga added. “The legislation passed this session will help restore the balance between Virginians and our government by limiting the ability of law enforcement to engage in mass surveillance of innocent Virginians while still permitting them to use sophisticated technologies as needed in active investigations necessary to keep us safe. We trust that the Governor will sign this important legislation quickly and without amendment, and we look forward to working with him and the Secure Commonwealth Panel to better ensure the privacy of Virginians,” she concluded.

The pro-privacy, pro-liberty bills awaiting the Governor’s signature include:

  • House Bill 1408, Del. Betsy Carr (D Richmond City) and Del. Bob Marshall (R Prince William) will require a warrant before law enforcement can use Stingrays and similar technology to gather real-time cell phone tracking data.  A bill they sponsored last year requires a warrant to get that information from cell phone providers.  This bill extends the requirement to technologies used to get the same information independently.
  • House Bill 2125, Del. Ben Cline (R Rockingham) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R Shenandoah), and Senate Bill 1301, Sen. Donald McEachin (D Henrico), will establish a requirement that law enforcement and regulatory agencies obtain a warrant before they can use a drone, except in certain emergency circumstances, like Blue and Amber alerts.
  • House Bill 1673, Del. Rich Anderson (R Prince William), and Senate Bill 965, Sen. Chap Peterson (D Fairfax), will clarify that current Virginia law prohibits  law enforcement agencies from using  surveillance technologies to collect and store personal information (including license plate numbers) unless engaged in an active criminal investigation. The bills create an exception to current law that allows the use of license plate readers to collect personal information and keep it for a maximum of seven days, unless part of an ongoing investigation.