Civil Liberties Org Challenges Police Use of License Plate Readers as Mass Surveillance Tool

By Activist Post

The Rutherford Institute has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to prohibit police from using license plate readers as mass surveillance tools to track citizens whether or not they are suspected of a crime. In filing an amicus brief in Neal v. Fairfax County Police Department, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that Fairfax County’s practice of collecting and storing license plate reader data violates a Virginia law prohibiting the government from amassing personal information about individuals, including their driving habits and location.

Mounted next to traffic lights or on police cars, Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR), which photograph up to 3,600 license tag numbers per minute, take a picture of every passing license tag number and store the tag number, date, time and location of the picture in a searchable database. The data is then shared with law enforcement, fusion centers and private companies and used to track the movements of persons in their cars. There are reportedly tens of thousands of these license plate readers now in operation throughout the country. It is estimated that over 99% of the people being unnecessarily surveilled are entirely innocent. The Virginia Supreme Court will hear arguments today in Neal v. Fairfax County Police Department.

“Incredibly, Americans cannot even drive their cars without being enmeshed in the government’s web of surveillance. We’re on the losing end of a technological revolution that has already taken hostage our computers, our phones, our finances, our entertainment, our shopping, our appliances, and now, it’s focused its sights on our cars,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “By subjecting Americans to surveillance without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the data for later use, the government has erected the ultimate suspect society. In such an environment, there is no such thing as ‘innocent until proven guilty.’”

Since 2010, the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) has used ALPRs to record the time, place, and driving direction of thousands of drivers who use Fairfax County roads daily. License plate readers capture up to 3,600 images of license tag numbers per minute and convert the images to a computer format that can be searched by tag number. This information, stored in a police database for a year, allows the police to determine the driving habits of persons as well as where they have been.

In 2014, Fairfax County resident Harrison Neal filed a complaint against FCPD asserting its collection and storage of license plate data violates Virginia’s Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act (Data Act), a law enacted because of the fear that advanced technologies would be used by the government to collect and analyze massive amounts of personal information about citizens, thereby invading their privacy and liberty. The lawsuit cited a 2013 opinion by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that ALPR data is “personal information” that the Data Act forbids the government from collecting and storing except in connection with an active criminal investigation. Despite this opinion, FCPD continued its practice of collecting and storing ALPR data in order to track the movements of vehicles and drivers. In November 2016, a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge ruled that license plate reader data was not “personal information” under the Data Act because license tag numbers identify a car and not a person. In weighing in on the case, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that the history of the Data Act affirms its prohibition on the collection and maintenance of ALPR data by the government.

Case History

August 2, 2017 • Rutherford Institute Asks Virginia Supreme Court to Prohibit Police From Using License Plate Readers as Surveillance Tool to Track Citizens

PDF – The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Neal v. Fairfax County Police Department

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9 Comments on "Civil Liberties Org Challenges Police Use of License Plate Readers as Mass Surveillance Tool"

  1. The elephant in the room being that there is no record of who is actually driving the car.

  2. Westcoastdeplorable | November 2, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Reply

    Good luck Mr. Whitehead. I hope you prevail.

  3. Robby Maraglia | November 3, 2017 at 6:05 am | Reply

    Facial recognition coming soon.

    • Free Man (NOT) | November 3, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Reply

      Too late. It’s already here, and used in some cities.
      Cameras at intersections capture not only the plate but pictures of all passengers.

  4. Kaint wait for ‘driverless’ cars, it will issue you a ticket or drive you into a gate (The Las Vegas couple) at 100 mph.

  5. The US Government was the perpetrator of 911, therefore all government spying is unjustifiable.

  6. Most of us resent the government’s now ubiquitous surveillance however what this story fails to point out is that the practice is also picking uninsured and unregistered vehicles not to mention unlicensed drivers. Let’s not forget they also monitor everyone’s internet usage and most likely are keeping tabs on those of us that are awake up to them. Aside from living off the grid in a jungle somewhere there is no way out of their matrix sadly.

  7. Free Man (NOT) | November 3, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Reply

    I watched a cop cruising a Walmart parking lot with several “readers” on his car.
    I was going to ask him if he was ashamed to be doing it, but I was afraid I’d be cuffed and stuffed.

  8. Dave Snellings | November 5, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Reply

    Thank you Rutherford Institute…….& I don’t even live in Va……..for defending the rights of all of us. I’m sick of the police state system we have in this so called free country……you know…….”They hate us for our freedom.”……I’m sure the mindless masses actually believe that: That they hate us for our freedom……..and, that we are free.
    Orwell’s 1984.

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