Eyes off: VA House pass bill that limits police spying

By Bre Payton | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

GET A WARRANT: Virginia house tries to curb police spying by passing requiring the police to obtain a warrant before tracking location data via cell phones.

PURCELLVILLE, Va. — The Virginia House of Delegates wants police to get a warrant before they track location data from cell phones.

The bill, HB17, which passed the House of Delegates unanimously Tuesday, specifically targets IMSI catchers — devices that pick up signals from nearby cell phones by mimicking a cell phone tower, known as a Stingray or a Chum device.

Police in at least 33 states have used devices like the Chum, and at least 25 police departments own one, including police in Fairfax County, Montgomery County and the Metro Police in D.C.

Many think the use of location-tracking devices without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment, and that includes the American Civil Liberties Union.

HB 17 is one of several bills this session to limit information gathering, including a recently tabled Senate bill aimed at stopping the police from collecting and storing data gotten “illegally” — from devices that read licensee plates, for example.

The Senate Bill would have codified former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s advisory opinion, from last February.

The Attorney General’s office determined police were illegally using technology, such as the plate readers, but all of the major police departments in Northern Virginia met with their lawyers and decided to continue storing the data anyway, the Washington Post reported.

In Alexandria, police store data for two years; Loudoun and Fairfax counties keep it one year.

Contact Bre Payton at bpayton@watchdog.org or follow her on Twitter @Bre payton.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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