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Big Brother Rules Old Dominion: Virginia Fails to Limit Surveillance State in 2016

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RICHMOND, Va (May 4, 2016) – Over the past few years, Virginia has been a leader in pushing back against the federal surveillance state. passing bills to curtail drones and NDAA indefinite detention. However, the tide has been turning in the wrong direction for the Old Dominion state since Gov. Terry McAulliffe (D) assumed office. He vetoed a measure to put common sense restrictions on license plate readers last year. In 2016, the legislature followed the governor’s lead, failing to approve four bills to protect privacy.

The rundown about the crucial privacy rights legislation that failed in Virginia this year is as follows:

STINGRAYS

Del. L. Mark Dudenhefer (R-Dist. 2) introduced HB1332, the Virginia Electronic Communications Privacy Act, to help block the use of cell site simulators, known as “stingray” or “hailstorm” devices. This technology essentially spoofs cell phone towers, tricking any device within range into connecting to the stingray instead of the tower, allowing law enforcement to sweep up communications content, as well as locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone or other electronic device.

After the bill was referred from the House Committee on Commerce and Labor to the House Committee on Science and Technology, committee membership refused to approve the bill. Under the leadership Chairman Richard Anderson (R-Dist. 51), the Hb1322 was delayed until 2017 with no guarantee it will receive any serious consideration next year.

LICENSE PLATE READERS

The Virginia legislature had another chance to tackle government abuse of automated license plate readers (ALPR) in 2016. Del. Bob Marshall (R-13) introduced HB141 to prohibit Virginia law enforcement agencies from collecting or maintaining personal information from ALPRs in a manner where such data is of unknown relevance and not intended for prompt evaluation and potential use respecting suspected criminal activity or terrorism by any person without a warrant. The bill would have set strict limits on storage and sharing of data legally collected without a warrant as well.

However, the bill never saw the light of the day. It was killed by the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety. Under the leadership of Chairman L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Dist. 31), the legislation never even received a committee vote.

ELECTRONIC DATA PRIVACY

Two measures were introduced this year to protect the privacy of all electronic data against unlawful government intrusion. SB236 and SB599 were introduced by Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Dist. 34) to provide general protections for Virginia residents against intrusive government spying. SB236 would have stopped the bulk collection and storing of data “unless a criminal or administrative warrant has been issued.” SB599 would have banned government officials from accessing electronic data from service providers unless proscribed by a lawful warrant or wiretap order. Illegally-obtained information would have been required to be destroyed within 90 days as well, with the exception of certain exigent circumstances.

Neither of these bills were passed. After being referred to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology, committee membership voted unanimously against approving SB236. Under the leadership of Chairman Frank Ruff (R-Dist. 15), SB236 was delayed until 2017 with no guarantee that the bill will receive any serious consideration next year. SB599 suffered a similar fate. After bouncing around from the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor to the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology, it finally ended up in the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice where the membership voted unanimously not to approve SB599. Under the leadership of Chairman Thomas K. Norment (R-Dist. 3), SB599 was delayed until 2017 with no guarantee that the bill will receive any serious consideration in the next session..

OVERVIEW

Although the Virginia legislature dropped the ball and is seemingly headed in the wrong direction, all hope is not lost. Several of these privacy bills are still active next year, and could pass if Virginia residents are vigilant. Unfortunately, Big Brother will have free reign in the state until then.

However, there is substantive work that can be done in the interim. The legislators who refused to uphold their oath to the Constitution are now more vulnerable than ever. Remember to alert your community about who is jeopardizing your rights, Virginians. From that point, the legislature can be remade with individuals who have the backbone to protect your sacred freedoms through nullification.

The process can be a long, hard and ugly one, but it can pay off. Many of the states that are currently passing several nullification bills each year were in Virginia’s situation not too long ago. However, liberty-minded activists in those states steadfastly refused to give up and successfully pushed their legislators to do the right thing. That is the future that can be achieved, but it is going to take some grit and determination to get there. Are you up to the challenge?