Judge denies Fairfax County request to dismiss ACLU case challenging unlawful police surveillance

acluFairfax County Circuit Court Judge Grace Carroll denied the Fairfax County Police Department’s request to dismiss a case brought by the ACLU of Virginia challenging the FCPD’s use of automatic license plate readers to unlawfully collect the personal information of law-abiding Virginians.

“This case is simple,” said Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia.  “Our laws make clear that law-abiding Virginians should be free to travel around the Commonwealth without police departments tracking, storing, and sharing their vehicle’s movements with other law enforcement agencies.  We thank Judge Carroll for allowing this case to move forward.”

Instead of reforming its policies to ensure against the passive collection of the movements of law-abiding Virginians, the FCPD sought to have the case dismissed by arguing that the information collected about our client and his vehicle is not personal information, and therefore does not violate the Virginia Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act.

“Fairfax County Police Department’s use of automatic license plate readers to compile vast databases of people’s movements in their vehicles is precisely the kind of intrusive practice the Virginia Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act was meant to prevent,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. “By compiling a history of your vehicle’s movements in local and regional databases, law enforcement can use algorithms to predict your movements and determine your friends, politics, and medical conditions.”

Modern technology can be used to enhance public safety, but only if proper policies are in place.

“As we saw on Wednesday when the Virginia State Police used an automatic license plate reader to locate the individual suspected of killing two Roanoke journalists, when used correctly modern technology can be used to make us safer,” said Gastañaga.  “Our client is not asking for the Fairfax County Police Department to stop using automatic license plate readers for active criminal investigations or for Amber or Blue Alerts.  In those cases, the technology serves a valuable law enforcement purpose.  He’s just asking that the Fairfax County Police Department stop using automatic license plate readers to collect everyone else’s data too.”

In addition to Glenberg, our client, Harrison Neal, is represented by ACLU of Virginia staff attorney Hope Amezquita and ACLU of Virginia cooperating attorneys Edward Rosenthal and Christina Brown of the Alexandria firm Rich Rosenthal Brincefield Manitta Dzubin & Kroeger, LLP.

Neal’s Complaint and Response to Demurrer and Fairfax County’s Memorandum in Support of Demurrer can be found here.

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