Virginia Police Photograph, Track, and Store License Plate Data at Random…To “Catch Criminals”

Police in Alexandria, Virginia think it’s OK to violate the 4th Amendment. I guess that’s nothing new. Most police don’t really pay attention to the 4th Amendment all that much. They think if a citizen invokes his Constitutional rights to be safe and secure from warrantless searches and seizures, then he must be hiding something. You have to somehow prove your innocence to them in order for them to let you go, and even then, it’s temporary. They’ll get you on something next time.

The Alexandria Police Department may have taken their 4th Amendment violations to a new level with their random collection of vehicle license plates. Kathryn Watson with Watchdog.org reported on her experience finding out that her local police department was keeping tabs on her location:

Last week I filed a public records request with the Alexandria Police Department. I’ve lived in the lovely city of Alexandria for just two years, and my driving record — aside from the occasional parking ticket — is virtually spotless.

What I found, however, left me riveted.

In all, police captured 16 photos of my car — mostly at night — and recorded my license plate eight times on five dates — from October 2013 to as recently as April 1.

In January, a license plate reader captured my plate twice while my car was parked in the lot of my apartment complex, according to latitude and longitude records.

Police also captured records of my car as I drove to Bible study on a typical Wednesday night in March.

Still, others were captured in various spots around Old Town Alexandria.

Per Alexandria Police Department policy, LPR-generated data may be kept on a computer for up to 30 days, pending upload to the LPR database. There, information can be kept for up to six months, according to Crystal Nosal, commander and senior public information officer for the Alexandria Police Department. Police Chief Earl Cook ratcheted down that storage policy from four years to two, and then from two years to six months.

Alexandria police have 13 mobile systems, which are mounted only on police vehicles, Nosal said.

The state’s highest constitutional office has already said random collection and storage isn’t legal — but many local police departments in Virginia continue to do it.

Last year, then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli concluded in an official opinion that “data collected in the continuous, passive manner that is not properly defined as ‘criminal intelligence information and not otherwise relating directly to law enforcement investigations and intelligence gathering respecting criminal activity … may not be lawfully collected through the use of LPR technology.”

The Alexandria commonwealth’s attorney and city attorney disagreed with Cuccinelli’s legal opinion. An attorney general’s opinion doesn’t bear the force of law. That’s left to the courts.

Police say ALPR technology helps police identify and catch criminals in ways other approaches simply can’t.

In January, Alexandria police, guided by ALPR-gathered data, were able to apprehend the suspected robber of a U.S. Postal Service office.

“LPR has been a successful tool in identifying leads in lots of cases from homicide to larceny.  There is not one specific crime type,” Nosal said, mentioning that records can be used to find parking violators, too. “Recovering stolen automobiles and detecting parking violations are probably the best examples, however, we do not maintain statistical data on when LPR was used as a tool since it is merely a pointer system.”

That kind of success doesn’t happen every day. A study of Maryland’s use of the technology found that for every 1 million license plates scanned, only 47 were connected with serious crimes, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Virginia is encouraging people to file records request with their own police departments.

They justify the records collection the same way the NSA justify their widespread collection of Americans’ electronic data, or the TSA justify their passenger groping and naked scanners. It’s for “safety.”

A student getting bullied is threatened with felony wiretapping charges for recording his encounters with bullies to prove he wasn’t making anything up, but the government can watch, track, record and monitor Americans at random all day long whenever they want, and it’s all for “safety.”