General Assembly divides government surveillance bills: Governor has a choice

state-capitol2In a parliamentary maneuver, Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), and Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Prince William), have sent their government surveillance legislation to the Governor’s desk in two different formats.

Senator Petersen’s bill has been sent in the original form it left the Assembly, with a broad personal privacy protection clause that guards against any future government technology that infringes on the right of Virginia citizens. On the Senate floor today, Senator Petersen asked that the amendments be “passed by” so that they were not taken up for a vote. The bill will thus be returned to the Governor in the original state.

Delegate Anderson’s bill was amended by the House of Delegates to be limited to license plate readers (LPRs) and not the broader “surveillance technology.”  It still constrains license plate data retention to a time period of seven (7) days.

Delegate Anderson and Senator Petersen’s bills previously passed the Assembly in one conformed standard. That legislation would have limited both LPR data retention and any kind of future technology that indiscriminately vacuums up personally identifiable data, such as biometric surveillance cameras, cell phone “stingray” devices that log the proximity of cell phone numbers, or large-scale broad swaths of drone surveillance.

Notably, the legislation only dealt with that technology that collected “personal information” without the subject’s knowledge or consent.  It was inaccurately portrayed as impacting the ability of police to video encounters with citizens.

Governor Terence R. McAulliffe now has a choice: He can either sign the original legislation that passed the General Assembly unanimously, the Petersen bill (SB 965). Or he can sign the Anderson legislation, which is limited to LPRs (HB 1673).

“The Governor has a choice, he can make Virginia a leader in personal privacy protection in the 21st century, or he can simply limit the collection and retention of LPR data to seven days.  Either way, we better off than where we are currently,” Senator Petersen said after the 2015 veto session.

“Although I would have liked for the original bill that passed both cambers unanimously to be signed into law, signing HB 1673 would make Virginia a leader in restricting the unlimited collection and retention of Virginian’s vehicle locations,” Delegate Anderson said after the 2015 veto session.

• Neither of the current bills, or the original legislation, place any restriction on private surveillance cameras.
• Neither of the current bills, or the original legislation, place any restriction on jail or courthouse security surveillance systems.
• The bills only target indiscriminate surveillance systems.
• LPR systems have previously been used to monitor political rallies and keep a log of attendees.• The original legislation passed both the House and Senate unanimously upon final passage.

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