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Legal Features

The Virginia Supreme Court’s opinion in Neal v. Fairfax County

The Virginia Supreme Court has delivered a blow to the police’s use of Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) to surveil citizens and track drivers’ movements. The Rutherford Institute filed an amicus brief in Neal v. Fairfax County Police Department challenging the police practice of collecting and storing ALPR data as a violation of Virginia law that prohibits the government from amassing personal information about individuals, including their driving habits and location. 

In reversing a lower court ruling that allowed state law enforcement agencies to extend the government’s web of surveillance on Americans by tracking them as they drive their cars, the Court held that the use of ALPRs involves the collection of personal information prohibited by Virginia’s Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act. Mounted next to traffic lights or on police cars, ALPRs, which photograph up to 3,600 license tag numbers per minute, take a picture of every passing license tag number and store the tag number and the date, time, and location of the picture in a searchable database. The data is then shared with law enforcement, fusion centers and private companies and used to track the movements of persons in their cars. 

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