On Eve of Veto Session, SB 965 Hit with Misinformation

It’s a day before the veto session.  All of the lawmakers will be returning to Richmond tonight or tomorrow.

Ironically, the most controversial legislation appears to be SB 965, which passed unanimously back in the regular session.  That bill strictly limited the use of government to utilize “surveillance technology” to collect personal information without a warrant.  Now a tremendous amount of lobbying is being used to defeat it.

I’m not in Richmond to answer every charge, but basically the arguments are based on three distinct pieces of misinformation:

1.  That the legislation was “rushed” through the chamber.

2.  That it takes away the ability of police and Sheriffs to track missing persons or solve crimes under active investigation.

3.  That the conference report has an unintended effect on existing (pro-safety) technologies that Sheriffs and police use every day.

I take these criticism seriously, so I’ll examine each one in turn — especially since the Governor has now amended the legislation to effectively “legalize” the very technology I was attempting to restrict.

First, the original bill was “pre-filed” before session began and introduced at a press conference with bipartisan support. It spoke to limiting the state’s use of “any technology” for collecting personal data, where the data was of “unknown relevance” AND “not intended for prompt evaluation for purposes of suspected criminal activity.”  This was an extension of existing law, the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Act, which already limits government collection of personal data.  The bill in original form passed the Senate unanimously and the House, after full committee hearings in each. In conference, we NARROWED the scope of the bill from “any technology” to “any surveillance technology” in order to be more precise.  That conference report passed both bodies, approx. two months after introduction.  Not exactly a rush job.

Second, in regard to its effect on investigations, the bill on its face exempts data collected pursuant to a criminal investigation.  More specifically, the bill also permits a 7-day period to hold the data from license plate readers, which gives police the opportunity to decide whether that data is relevant to an investigation or a missing person.  If so, police can hold the data indefinitely.   (The purpose of the “seven days” was for police to determine whether the data actually was relevant — and not just part of a Databank Mountain).

Third, the bill does not effect any technology — surveillance or otherwise — where there is “known relevance,” e.g. a body camera attached to a police officer or a hidden camera in a jailhouse.  In other words, if there’s a purpose for the camera location, then it’s fine.  (Conversely, if the collection is random, then it’s not fine).  Despite this fact, a lot of the post-session lobbying against the bill has misrepresented this reality, by speaking only to the “surveillance technology” definition, which limited the scope, and failing to read the actual law.   The “scare tactic” is to say that SB 965 (and its House equivalent) limits the ability of law enforcement to collect data from ANY CAMERA outside of investigation, which is simply false.   Again, the critical test is “known relevance.”

(note:  This standard is no more or less vague than “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” which officers interpret every day in policing).

The irony, of course, is that the bill was specifically targeted for “license plate readers,” which have already been found (by an AG’s opinion) to be in violation of existing state law.  In fact, the State Police does not use them for that reason.  Our bill just basically brought the state Code in line with that opinion.

As I said before, the Governor’s amendments would take my bill, which strictly limited “surveillance technology,” and essentially turn it upside-down.  It would also (retroactively) legalize the use of LPR’s by northern Virginia police departments who ignored the AG’s opinion and continued to scan plates and databank info.

The voices in favor of the Governor’s amendments were the same voices that opposed my initial bill in the Senate and House.  And these arguments were specifically rejected in the House and Senate committees, after we pointed out how these “public safety” concerns were fully met by the bill’s text.  (In reality, the best use of LPR’s is more for collecting property taxes, than finding missing children).

I understand that nobody in state government wants to have their power limited.   But that’s what a citizen legislature is supposed to do.  In light of the misinformation on SB 965, it’s critical that the legislature assert that role.

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I’m not dead, I’m in trial this week

It’s been a long week.  In trial every day and not getting home until late.

A few notes:  excellent Op-Ed in the RTD on the UVA tuition increase.  I don’t understand why the Board wouldn’t get more input.  And, yes, these rising tuitions are targeted at middle-class families which save for college (and thus don’t qualify for aid on FAFSA).

Lots of backlash this week from the Law Establishment to our “surveillance” bill.  As I said before (and said repeatedly during the session), the arguments against it rely on series of red herrings.  And I’m not referring to the AG.

Speaking of which, the AG has apparently stifled the efforts by Amherst County to keep Sweet Briar open.  It’s been 30 days since I asked him for an opinion on the illegal closing of the school and the AG’s own ability to stop it.  Inaction = action.

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The Last Days of the Confederacy

It was 150 years ago to this day (April 2, 1865), when the Union Army broke through the Confederate lines at Petersburg and began the campaign to end the Civil War.   Within hours, the Union Army had marched on to Richmond and sent the Confederate government packing.

After winning countless battles over four years, the Army of Northern Virginia collapsed suddenly in April 1865, primarily because its soldiers realized they could no longer win — and their best hope was simply to survive.  Thousands of Johnny Rebs dropped out of ranks on that final desperate march across Southside (today’s Rte 460).  Only about 10,000 made it to the final denouement at Appomattox.

One of them was Thomas Moore of Fairfax Courthouse, a survivor.  Even before the Civil War, Moore was an army veteran.  As an adventurous teenager, he joined the Mississippi Rifles and fought in the Mexican War  under the leadership of its commander, Jefferson Davis.  He remained friends with Davis after that war — a relationship which undoubtedly influenced his future decisions.

In 1861, Virginia was split by the issue of secession.  Most residents of Fairfax County started out unionist (due in no small part to their fear of occupation).  Moore, the clerk of court, was an ardent secessionist who urged his neighbors to leave the union.

When the war started and the Army of Potomac occupied Fairfax County courthouse, Moore took his revenge — hiding the court’s law books in a farmhouse in Manassas and thus bringing the circuit court to a screeching half.

Moore joined the Army of Northern Virginia and stayed in for all four years.  Unlike others, he didn’t serve in the front lines but held a critical role as a quartermaster, keeping Lee’s army provisioned as they marched across Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Moore was there at Appomattox and received a parole “pass” signed by a Union officer, which allowed him to walk home to Fairfax and not be picked up by Union patrols (we found the parole slip in 1984 when we cleaned out my Great-Grandmother’s house).

You would think that a hardened Rebel like Moore would have stayed bitter to the end.  Instead, he walked to the courthouse and took a loyalty oath to the Union, just days after returning home from the War.  Was it a change of heart — or the realization that he needed to restore his pension as a Mexican War vet?

Moore’s family also returned home from living with relatives in Culpeper during the War.  Moore’s son Walton went on to UVA a few years later, started a law practice in Fairfax and was elected to the State Senate in 1882.   During that time, his father was also an active lawyer, a member of the Town Council, and a Vestry member at Truro Church.

After a long career as a lawyer, son Walton went on to serve in the U.S. Congress and (in the 1930′s) as an advisor  to FDR.   He had no children of his own, which meant that the “Moore” name didn’t survive in Fairfax but his sister Susan Lindsey married Roszel Donohoe of Loudoun and beget a daughter, Mary LeGrand (or “Bam”), who became a matriarch to the 20th century tribe of McCandlishes, Livingston, Prichards and Petersens.

The bottom line is that the Confederacy died 150 years ago, but Thomas Moore survived.  And we’re all around today thanks to both facts.

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