Week-in-Review: Police spying and transportation woes


By Bre Payton | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

POLICE SPYING: License plate data collection, which advocates say is in violation of the Fourth Amendment, has Virginians up in arms.

Police spying has Virginians up in arms, and transportation roadblocks persist in the Old Dominion.

Civil rights advocates say police have been storing license plate data in violation of the Fourth Amendment. This has spurred Virginians to take action with a new bipartisan caucus.

Experts are concerned that a transit commission in the Tidewater area can rack up an unlimited amount of debt with little oversight. A new study saying a streetcar in Arlington would generate billions in revenue seems to have political motivations behind it.

This is your week in review.

Parties join forces in fight for personal privacy, liberty
Democrats and Republicans in Richmond may be debating whether the state should expand Medicaid, but lawmakers on both sides are joining forces to fight for something on which both parties can agree.

Protecting Virginians’ personal information from public authorities is the mission of the newly formed Ben Franklin Liberty Caucus, named for its namesake’s famous quote, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Advocate: Police bypass Fourth Amendment with license plate readers
The widespread use of automatic license plate reader technology by local police departments is not only unsettling — it’s unconstitutional, one civil liberties advocate argues.

“One problem is it bypasses the Fourth Amendment,” said John Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville-based, civil-liberties-focused Rutherford Institute.

Automatic license plate readers can capture the date, time and exact location of a vehicle — for up to 1,800 vehicles per minute. That data goes to a central database that can match DMV records and other locations where that license plate was also captured on camera.

Watchdog.org reporter files FOIA request for personal license plate data
After Watchdog.org reporter Katie Watson learned that some local Northern Virginia police departments are randomly scanning — and storing — the date, time and location of license plates, she decided to file a records request for her own data.

When Watson called the police department’s public information office, the pleasant woman who answered the phone said she’d never heard a person make that request before, and directed me to a data department. The woman who answered the phone there told her flat-out she couldn’t have those records.

Arlington streetcar claim veers off rails before election

A new study says a 4.7-mile Arlington streetcar line will generate up to $4.4 billion in economic growth.

The source and timing of the report — just days before a key county board election — suggest the prediction is more politics than reality.

Investing $284 million in a trolley system along Columbia Pike would yield $3.2 billion to $4.4 billion in net tax revenue for Arlington and Fairfax counties over the next 30 years, according to HR&A Advisors.

The HR&A study was funded by Arlington County government, which is pushing the streetcar project against growing community opposition.

Virginia transportation commission can rack up ‘unlimited’ debt
Taxpayer advocates are saying a new regional transportation commission will be able to rack up limitless debt with little oversight.

There doesn’t seem to be too many checks and balances on how much debt the committee can amass, said Maurice McTigue of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, referring to general-obligation and revenue bonds.

The problem with general-obligation bonds is they count against the bond ratings of all cities under the commission’s authority, said Reid Greenmum, a member of The Virginia Beach Taxpayer’s Alliance. “Now you have people not in your city racking up debt in the name of your city.”

The bill doesn’t define what would happen if the Tidewater region has trouble paying the debt. Experts worry the state will have to step in if the localities default. It seems as though the Legislature has given to the commission the right to incur debt on behalf of the state, McTigue said.

Enrolling, removing Medicaid patients would be ‘disastrous,’ expert says
Enrolling hundreds of thousands more Virginians into Medicaid with the option to reverse the expansion after two years sounds like the perfect compromise for bickering leaders in Richmond.

At least it sounds great until stopping to consider how disruptive it could be for each of those hundreds of thousands of people to have health insurance one day and lose it the next.

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