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April 15, 2015

Richmond, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia today challenged the Governor to sign the stronger of two bills addressing government surveillance that have been returned to him by the legislature. 

Although the two bills left the General Assembly with identical language, SB 965 (Petersen D Fairfax) was returned to the Governor today without amendment; HB 1673 (Anderson R Prince William) was returned to the Governor with amendments that gut the bill and restrict its application to law enforcement use of license plate readers (LPRs).

As the bills left the legislature in February and as SB 965 was returned to him, they would simply affirm the scope and proper interpretation of the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act in the context of police use of surveillance technology.

“As the General Assembly made clear when it passed this legislation nearly unanimously, the government has no business tracking the movements of innocent Virginians,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “The Governor’s amendments were equivalent to giving law enforcement a blank check to engage in unlimited mass surveillance of Virginians using license plate readers and other surveillance technology. While the House decision to reject some of the Governor’s amendments to HB 1673 muted their adverse impact, there is no question now that SB 965 would ensure Virginians’ privacy while HB 1673 would undermine it.”

Here’s where the legislation stands procedurally:

  1. Both bills go back to the Governor for further consideration.
  2. The Governor can sign one or both bills, veto one or both bills, or let one or both bills go into law without his signature.  To the extent that the bills are in conflict, the action he takes last will control what becomes law.  If the Governor does not act within 30 days, a bill sent back from the reconvened session becomes law without his signature.

“The ACLU of Virginia, its members and supporters, and its allies across Virginia urge the Governor to veto HB 1673 as amended by the legislature and sign SB 965 as it originally passed.  This shouldn’t be a tough decision for the Governor.  SB 965 merely requires government agencies, including law enforcement, to show the relevance of the data they want to collect and implement a policy that ensures the data is kept and disseminated only for the purpose for which it is collected. SB 965 doesn’t ban the use of any technology; it just sets the rules for government, including law enforcement, to follow when using it. We urge the Governor to stand with the broad diversity of Virginians who support these basic privacy protections,” concluded Gastañaga.

Your voice can make the difference!  Tell the Governor that you want him to side with you for once!