Reston, VA

A new bill could potentially significantly limit how long the Fairfax County Police Department and other state police departments can store data obtained through automated license plate readers (ALPRs).

As originally written, SB 1198 would bar police from storing data obtained by ALPRs for more than 30 days without a warrant or ongoing active investigation.

ALPRs have the ability to collect data and information like photos of license plates as well as a driver’s location at a particular date and time. They are often mounted on street poles, overpasses, or police square cars while a central server houses the data.

A number of civil liberty organizations like the ACLU have come out against the use of ALPRs as an invasion of privacy and chilling First Amendment protected activity.

The Virginia State Supreme Court ruled late last year that police departments are allowed to keep this data “indefinitely,” no warrant or investigation needed. This came after a Fairfax County judge ruled otherwise in 2019, saying that it was in violation of Virginia’s “Data Act.”

While some jurisdictions do purge this data relatively quickly, the Fairfax County Police Department does not.

Reston Now has confirmed that FCPD stores information collected by ALPRs for up to a year.

Their reasoning is that the information helps protect the community and locate missing persons.

“Using technology such as license plate recognition has improved our ability to safeguard Fairfax County,” Anthony Guglielmi, FCPD spokesperson, told Reston Now in a statement. “With that, we have stringent systems in place to protect the information privacy and constitutional rights of those we serve. We appreciate efforts to further study this important issue because it’s paramount that we strike an equitable balance between data retention and investigational integrity.”

The state bill was introduced by State Senator Chap Petersen who represents the 34th district, which covers Fairfax, Vienna, Oakton, and parts of Chantilly.

He introduced a similar bill back in 2014 and 2015, which limited storage of data to only seven days. That 2015 bill, which did have bipartisan support, was vetoed by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

“License plate readers… capture the movement of vehicles. They track who’s attending a church service, who’s attending a political rally, a gun show,” Petersen tells Reston Now. “It can be very arbitrary and very dangerous in that… it’s used to essentially put a layer of surveillance over citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights.”

The bill also notes that opportunities to secure employment, insurance, credit, and the right to due process could be “endangered by the misuse of certain of these personal information systems.”

That being said, Petersen notes his bill does not stop the collecting of this information but rather simply adds a “limitation” – 30 days – on how long information of this nature can be stored.

Additionally, the 30-day limitation is dropped if a warrant is obtained or there’s active criminal or missing person investigation.

“Frankly, it’s a pretty modest requirement,” he says.

Petersen says it’s this lack of “guardrails” that worry him and why he’s continued to propose bills of this nature.

“They say they have all types of internal controls. But who’s the judge of that?,” he says. “Who the heck knows who has access and who doesn’t. It’s the ability to use this [information] arbitrability or prejudicially that we have no control over.”

Besides police departments, information collected by ALPRs have also been used by revenue commissioners to confirm payment of property taxes (as is the case in Arlington County).

A slightly altered version of the bill did pass the Senate, but the House amended the bill to “establish a stakeholder workgroup to review the use of license plate readers” as a substitute for the 30-day limitation of storage.

“When my bill came out of the Senate, it was going to be an actual law. The House turned it into a study,” says Petersen. “Which basically kinda neuters it.”

The ACLU of Virginia agrees, with Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga writing Reston Now in an email that the organization “strongly supports SB1198 as introduced.”

“A requirement that government have a reason for collecting information about you and limiting the retention periods on data collected for no reason is reasonable,” she writes.

However, Petersen admits that it seems like he’s “hit a wall” in terms of getting his version of the bill passed. He doesn’t see a ton of value in a study, so he’s not going to accept the House amendment.

However, it does not alter his long-term goals that this bill could assist with.

“That’s limiting the amount of information the government can collect on its citizens,” he says. “We live in a free society… the government should not be tracking its own citizens.”

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Now, Reston residents can access detailed local transportation data with a click.

An interactive Reston Transportation Data Hub came online earlier this week, offering compiled data sets detailing how and when Restonians move about town.

The tool features vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit data. Much of the data is from November 2019.

“This system provides a new way for residents to understand both the big picture and the details of our current and planned transportation system,” Walter Alcorn, Hunter Mill District Supervisor and Transportation Committee Chair, wrote in the press release. “Whether you drive, ride rail/buses, walk or bicycle, information on how the system fits together and coming improvements is critical. This data hub is an important step forward.”

Beyond that, the tool also maps upcoming transportation and infrastructure projects including timelines and costs. It also provides a comprehensive map of pedestrian and biking trails in Reston.

A high level analysis shows that traffic volume tends to be higher in Reston during the evening peak rush hour than the morning equivalent.

The report speculates that, along with commuting, this is due to the combination of errands and non-work trips that more often happen in the evening.

There are also other data hubs being planned, including ones showing zoning activity and parks that will show how land is being used in Reston.

Full press release below:

Reston residents, businesses and stakeholders can now access the latest information about transportation in the Reston area. The online, interactive Reston Transportation Data Hub features vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit data, in addition to information about planned infrastructure improvements and transportation projects for Reston.

The Transportation Data Hub is one component of the Reston Data Visualization project. Led by the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development Urban Center’s Section and GIS Department, the project focuses on data transparency associated with Reston development and infrastructure improvements, including information about mobility, parks, and zoning activity.

“This system provides a new way for residents to understand both the big picture and the details of our current and planned transportation system,” said Walter Alcorn, Hunter Mill District Supervisor and Transportation Committee Chair. “Whether you drive, ride rail/buses, walk or bicycle, information on how the system fits together and coming improvements is critical. This data hub is an important step forward.”

Additional Data Hubs are planned for the Reston Data Visualization project – including a Zoning Activity Data Hub and a Parks Hub – for sharing land use information with the Reston Community.

The main Reston Data Visualization page, which includes the Reston Transportation Data Hub, can be found at https://reston-data-visualization-fairfaxcountygis.hub.arcgis.com/. For questions about the new Transportation Data Hub or the Reston Data Visualization project, contact the Department of Planning and Development’s Urban Centers Section.

The Transportation Data Hub is a collaboration between Fairfax County’s Department of Planning and Development and Department of Transportation.

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Work is underway on CoreSite’s data center campus in Sunrise Technology Park.

So far, the company, which has data centers across the country, has built a 79,000-square-foot data center. A 50,000-square-foot addition to the center is planned to be complete in the second quarter of 2019, according to Carole Jorgensen, CoreSite’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the company’s request to expand its Reston campus last August. Currently, two facilities called VA1 and VA2 are operational in Reston.

The company acquired the 22-acre office park in November 2016 from Brookfield Office Properties. The $60 million deal positioned the company to expand its footprint in Reston, which was an attractive alternative to Ashburn due to tax incentives and better commuting options, according to the company’s website.

The campus also gives CoreSite’s customers direct access to leading public cloud on-ramps, Jorgensen said. The location is also well-positioned to Washington, D.C. and network access points along the Eastern seaboard that enable networks, cloud providers and businesses “to scale, improve performance, and reduce costs,” she said.

Once completed, CoreSite’s Reston campus will total around 1.3 million square feet.

Photo courtesy CoreSite

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