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Legal Review: Virginia Supreme Court Wants Lower Court to Define Automated Plate Reader Database

By Virginia criminal law attorney Steve Duckett with Price Benowitz, LLP.

“What constitutes personal information?” is the question that the Virginia Supreme Court wants answered by lower courts, according to a decision issued by the Court in April.

The case involved the data collected by Automated License Plate Readers — the devices on the trunk lids of many police vehicles that take pictures of thousands of license plates per hour and check those numbers against list of plates stolen or wanted vehicles.

A Washington Post investigation discovered that several state agencies were not complying with the nonbinding opinion of the state’s Attorney General, who had determined that retention of the photographs for an extended period was not allowed. The Virginia State Police currently purges its photo database every 24 hours.

The Fairfax County Police Department — the defendant in the case in question — had a policy of retaining the information for one year and claimed that the information was not “personal” because the plate information generated did not have an owner’s name associated with it.

However, the Supreme Court felt that this was too narrow an interpretation, finding that the other information in the photograph — the type of vehicle, the time of day, and the surroundings in the photograph, were of a nature that might allow individuals to determine more personal information.

Additionally, when combined with the other resources available to the department, the photographs could quickly become personal in nature. It sent the case back to the lower court to make a determination based on that definition of “personal information.”

“Retention of certain personal information by law enforcement agencies may be considered an invasion of privacy when that information is not related to a crime or investigation,” said Steve Duckett, an Alexandria traffic lawyer.

The license plate data is being legally collected. It is only being used to determine whether the plate number in question is associated with any outstanding stolen or wanted vehicles. It is not being used to identify the individual in the vehicle.

However, retaining that information in a database for an extended period creates another pool of information that can be used to identify individuals and their activities. The lower court will need to decide whether that constitutes an invasion of an individual’s privacy.

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Now you can have fun with your family and friends when deciding where to eat!

Just hop aboard The Lunch Train and set the destination for: breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or nightlife!

– No app necessary. Simply go to the website if you’d like!
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Lyon Park & Ashton Heights’ biennial home & garden biennial tour is back. The tour will include contemporary custom homes, older historic bungalows as well as renovated properties. One of the stunning homes on the tour is pictured above.  In addition to beautiful & unique homes, the Villa & Vistas ’22 event will conclude with a festive reception at the Lyon Park Community Center at 414 N Fillmore Street, Arlington VA 22201. What could be better right?

All proceeds from this event will go to the Lyon Park Citizens Association (LPCA) towards our neighborhood jewel & hub, the Lyon Park Community Center (LPCC).

When: Sunday, October 2nd, Noon – 4 PM. 

Where: Meet to get your tickets and the tour map at the Lyon Park Community Center (414 N Fillmore Street) We will have a table with information outside.

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