Lawmakers Seek to Limit Retention of License Plate Reader Data, AAA Calls Upon Legislature to Act

Motorist Advocacy Group Cites Need to Balance Personal Privacy with Safety

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VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (February 05, 2015) - Legislation currently being considered by the Virginia General Assembly would prevent the indefinite retention of data, collected by police from license plate readers (LPRs), unless there is a pending criminal investigation. AAA Tidewater Virginia, a leading advocate for the rights of motorists, today came out in strong support of the legislation which is gaining traction with lawmakers. 

Police in Virginia and across the country use vehicle-mounted license-plate-readers (LPRs) to take pictures of the license plates of vehicles that pass them. These readers serve as essential tools in reducing auto thefts and in removing wanted criminals from our streets. The LPRs, for instance, instantly alert law enforcement when a stolen vehicle passes or when a vehicle connected to a crime or criminal passes.

The problem, according to AAA, is that currently there is no law limiting the retention of the databases created by LPRs, which can take about 1,800 or more pictures per minute.  HB 1673  (Delegate Anderson) /  SB965 (Senator Peterson), if passed, would solve that problem by amending the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, and prevent law-enforcement agencies in Virginia from retaining data collected by LPRs for more than seven days unless a warrant has been issued. Delegate Anderson’s bill passed out of a Militia and Police- Public Safety Sub-Committee: #2 this morning and is on its way to the full committee where it will be heard tomorrow morning at 9:00am. Senator Peterson’s bill has also met with early success, passing out of its assigned committees and now being heard by the full Senate.

The bills seek to codify a legal opinion already rendered about LPR data retention. In 2013, Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli issued a statement that if the data collected is not found to be relevant “to investigations and intelligence gathering relating to criminal activity” and classified as “criminal intelligence information” that it “may not lawfully be collected.”

The legislative debate in Richmond over the usage and retention of data from license plate readers has intensified in the wake of revelations that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has implemented

a “massive secret national license plate reader program.” According to DEA records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), there were over “345 million records in the database.”

AAA has concerns with the retention of data being held longer than needed for police to compare it to local and national crime data banks and/or for any other purposes that are required to protect public safety. “License plate readers are useful for legitimate law enforcement purposes. AAA simply believes that there needs to be a balance between beneficial police work and a respect for personal privacy,” said Georjeane Blumling, Vice President of Public Affairs for AAA Tidewater Virginia.

Today, AAA Tidewater is calling upon its members to contact their legislators to ask for support for license plate reader bills that would help protect motorists’ privacy. Long a responsible and effective voice at the local, state and national levels, AAA seeks to protect and improve the rights and privacy of motorists and travelers. AAA is the nation’s premier auto club with nearly 55 million members nationwide and was founded as an advocate for motorists, an advocacy effort that has continued for over 110 years.

As part of North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA Tidewater Virginia provides its more than 325,000 members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding AAA Tidewater Virginia has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.  For more information, visit AAA.com and follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/AAATidewaterVA or on Facebook at facebook.com/AAATidewaterVirginia