Virginians Support Limits on Retention of Data from License Plate Readers, AAA Poll Finds

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VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (December 16, 2015) – Following Governor McAuliffe’s 2015 veto of legislation to limit the amount of time law enforcement officials are allowed  to retain license plate data  collected by License Plate Readers (LPRs), Virginia motorists say retention limits are still needed. Twenty-two percent of respondents to a recent random sample survey of Virginia residents, by AAA Mid-Atlantic, said they prefer a retention period of 24 hours while nearly six out of ten respondents (60 percent) said they support retention limits ranging from 24 hours to 60 days. 

Despite public support for limits on the retention of license plate data, the likelihood of the Virginia General Assembly considering legislation in the upcoming session to govern its use is uncertain because of a law suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU against the Fairfax County Police Department).  In response to the Governor’s veto, the ACLU sued the Fairfax Police Department for what it claims is an unlawful violation of Virginia’s Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act. The ACLU alleges the FCPD violated the law by collecting and storing personal information of citizens without a clear need and purpose.  Historically, the General Assembly has been reluctant to consider legislation while a matter is disputed in the courts.

“Whether the issue is resolved through the courts or the legislative process, AAA believes that Virginia motorists’ privacy should be protected,” said Georjeane Blumling, Vice President of Public Affairs for AAA Tidewater Virginia.  AAA supports the shortest, most reasonable retention period possible and agrees with those polled who say the limit should be less than 60 days, after which LPR data should be purged.

“The use of License Plate Readers is not in question. AAA believes they are an important tool for law enforcement and aid in their work to protect and serve the public. Eliminating the current scenario, however, which allows police to keep information indefinitely, and establishing a time limit for the retention of data, would allow police investigations  to continue while simultaneously protecting the privacy of other motorists ,” said Blumling.

Every day, police in Virginia and across the country use vehicle-mounted license-plate-readers (LPRs) to capture license plate data from passing vehicles.  The devices can scan between 1,800 and 3,600 license plates a minute, day or night, and can read plates from all 50 states and most foreign countries.  By instantly alerting police when a stolen plate or vehicle passes or when a vehicle connected to a crime or criminal drives by, law enforcement officials can reduce auto thefts and  remove wanted, and sometimes, dangerous criminals from the  streets. There is, however, no current limit on how long information captured by LPRs may be maintained by law enforcement agencies.

Bills introduced during the 2015 General Assembly session sought to address this issue.  House Bill 1673, sponsored by Delegate Richard Anderson,  R-Prince William County, and Senate Bill 965 , introduced by Senator Chap Peterson, D-Fairfax, would have required law enforcement officials to purge  data collected by LPRs within a specific time frame, unless a warrant had been issued. Both measures were approved by the Virginia General Assembly but were vetoed by Governor McAuliffe who insisted upon a 60- day retention period.

The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling from November 6–8, 2015 and has a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.

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