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Virginia Law Enforcement Urges Defeat of SB 1198

Senator Petersen's bill addressing the use of automated license plate recognition (“ALPR”) data in the Commonwealth would negatively impact crime-solving in Virginia. Countless investigative successes are attributed to ALPR data, yet many of those possibilities would be foreclosed in Virginia if this bill becomes law.



Senators,

The Virginia Sheriffs' Association, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and the Virginia State Police Association are opposed to SB 1198We write you today to express grave reservations regarding SB 1198, Senator Petersen's bill addressing the use of automated license plate recognition (“ALPR”) data in the Commonwealth. Simply put, SB 1198 would negatively impact crime-solving in Virginia. Countless investigative successes—in situations involving Amber Alerts, missing persons, suicide prevention, and human trafficking, for instance—are attributed to ALPR data, yet many of those possibilities would be foreclosed in Virginia if this bill becomes law.

SB 1198 would prohibit Virginia investigators from accessing ALPR data that is held by third parties. In other words, police may collect ALPR data for themselves, but they must be blinded to ALPR data collected by private entities like shopping malls, neighborhood associations, or data companies. The nature of the data is exactly the same, and the value of that data in solving crimes and finding missing people is even greater because the volume of data is greater, yet this bill would prohibit the public benefitting from that data. Restricting critical data that could assist law enforcement, simply because it is from a third-party source, benefits no one charged with solving crimes. Removing this tool from the hands of law enforcement creates additional, unnecessary hurdles. 

The majority of ALPR data generated in Virginia is generated by private entities. To force law enforcement to ignore that data would be an injustice to victims of crime and their families.

Additionally, the bill would define a “license plate number” as “personal information,” a designation that would provide license plate numbers the same privacy protections afforded employment records, medical history and social security number under the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act (“GDCDPA”). This creates a stark conflict in the law.

On the one hand, Virginia law (§ 46.2-711(F)) requires that “No vehicles shall be operated on the highways in the Commonwealth without displaying the license plates required by this chapter,” and further, that (§ 46.2-716) every license plate be “clearly visible” and “clearly legible” and may not be hidden or obscured. On the other hand, SB 1198 would create a privacy right in a license plate number by defining it as “personal information.”

It cannot be both ways: if the legislature deems a license plate number “personal information” subject to an expectation of privacy, then it cannot also require a person to display that “personal information” in public by attaching it to their vehicle for anyone to see (and record). This conflict could call into question whether pictures, or even hand-written notes, containing a license plate number are in violation of the GDCDPA.

SB 1198 bill would severely and unnecessarily limit the ability of Virginia law enforcement to use ALPR data to develop leads in criminal investigations, solve crimes, find stolen vehicles, and recover missing people. It would also muddy the Code of Virginia by giving the public and law enforcement contradictory expectations regarding license plate numbers. We urge you to oppose SB 1198.

 
Sincerely,
 
John W. Jones, Executive Director
Virginia Sheriffs' Association
 
Wayne Huggins, Executive Director
Virginia State Police Association
 
Dana Schrad, Executive Director
Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police

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