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Virginia Caucus Hopes To Limit Police Data Collection, Storage


Concerns about new technologies used by law enforcement have led to an unusual political alliance in Virginia. A coalition of libertarian and progressive lawmakers is working to place limits on what the police can do with drones and other devices. It's called the Ben Franklin Privacy Caucus. Richard Anderson is a Virginia delegate from Prince William County and a Republican. Welcome to the program.

RICHARD ANDERSON: Thank you, sir.

SIEGEL: And I want you to talk about a couple of new technologies that give you concern about privacy, starting with license plate readers - cameras on police cars that take pictures of license plates and store information about where they've been spotted. You have a problem with that one.

ANDERSON: Right. We do across the spectrum of the Ben Franklin Privacy Caucus. We have law enforcement vehicles that carry this equipment, and they're able to take literally thousands and thousands of photographs every hour. And by piecing that information together, they are certainly able to determine the whereabouts, the habit patterns, the associations, the interests and all those sorts of personal things that I think most American citizens would rather be protected.

SIEGEL: You know, this is an odd one because I think the reason we have license plates is so that people can identify vehicles and who owns them. That is, we could say let's not have license plates. Why do we have them? It just seems now we have a technology that can actually track license plates.

ANDERSON: Right. We now have a technology that can really piece together the pieces and connect all the dots in a way that creates, I think, uncertainty in the American society. It certainly creates an ill-at-ease sort of response among the many citizens with whom I have spoken. It's just an inherently American quality that we have an expectation of privacy.

SIEGEL: But it's the storage of data that worries you here. Is a potential solution here simply dropping the data after a certain period of time?

ANDERSON: After a certain period of time. I carried a bill this year to do just that. I and a Democratic senator - he and I cochair the Ben Franklin Privacy Caucus. We carried a very similar bill - slight differences. It's in conference right now. But essentially what it said is that law enforcement can collect this data. They can keep it for seven days. At the end of that one-week period, they have to dump it from their system unless they can define a definitive nexus to a criminal activity. Then they can keep it for as long as they need to prosecute.

SIEGEL: Talk about another device - Stingray. I gather this acts like a kind of a cell phone tower that allows police to intercept mobile phone signals.

ANDERSON: Correct. The Stingray device - I've only been exposed to that recently because, again, we had focused on license plate readers. But it mimics a cell phone tower, and everything within its range it can sweep up amazingly - minute and personal information of a very sensitive quality. So this year, we addressed that in the Ben Franklin Privacy Caucus. Two of our delegates carried a bill. We required that a warrant had to be issued for real-time collection of cell phone information. And essentially what we did is we required a criminal warrant before a stingray can be used.

SIEGEL: So that police couldn't just go on a fishing expedition of tuning in to whatever they could possibly hear.

ANDERSON: That's correct. It's a very real concern.

SIEGEL: And why, in Richmond, Va., in a state that give the country so many of its founding fathers and framers, why name your caucus for Ben Franklin?

ANDERSON: Well, very simply - and I'm paraphrasing here. But Ben Franklin essentially said at one point during his lifetime, among many things - he said, those who would trade privacy for a bit of security deserve neither privacy nor security. And that kind of captures the spirit of what we're trying to do here.

SIEGEL: Richard Anderson, thank you very much for talking with us.

ANDERSON: All right. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Mr. Anderson is a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates for Prince William County. He spoke with us from Richmond. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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