Privacy SOS

Privacy battle heats up as Governor of Virginia sides with cops over legislature, Tea Party, ACLU, former attorney general

My colleagues in Virginia have heroically managed to get critical pieces of privacy legislation through the state legislature only for the Democratic governor to balk as they land on his desk. As the Virginia Watchdog puts it, when it comes to license plate tracking and drone surveillance Governor Terry McAuliffe has "made it clear he sides with law enforcement over civil liberties advocates."

The Governor's reasoning is pretty pathetic. McAuliffe told reporters that license plate numbers aren't connected to names, and therefore people have no reason to worry about police keeping tabs on where millions of license plates have been. NSA officials have said the same thing about their phone surveillance dragnet. It's just numbers, after all, not connected to any names, they say—so not to worry. Of course, these surveillance apologists don't explain why the police or military would want to keep so much data on us if it is essentially meaningless.

Far from anonymous, license plate reader information enables police and private companies to track the movements of millions of ordinary drivers with no suspicion of wrongdoing and without warrants. Two bills currently before the Virginia governor would fix that. A broad coalition including the ACLU, the Tea Party, and the former state attorney general think this commonsense privacy regulation is the right thing to do. Let's hope McAuliffe ultimately agrees.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.