Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a board matter submitted by Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock). The submission directs the County Executive to provide the Board with a recommended policy to govern the County's collection and retention of electronic data. With advances in technology comes the ability of the government to collect and retain significant amounts of electronic data. License plate readers are being used locally for beneficial tasks such as locating suspected criminals or analyzing travel patterns. Tracking the location of cell phones is also being used in some localities as part of police surveillance operations. While Fairfax County uses license plate readers, the County has not publicly confirmed whether or not it uses cell phone location technology.
"Technology can provide powerful benefits to law enforcement and urban planners. However, it also raises significant civil liberty concerns. Such data could allow the government to track the movements of innocent residents without warrant or any showing of probable cause or public benefit. People may disagree on whether local government should even use such technology, and if so under what rules, but it is the responsibility of the Board to set these important guidelines and procedures."
Supervisor Cook asked that the Board direct the County Executive to provide a recommended policy within 90 days that would govern the use of electronic data in Fairfax County. This policy would govern the use of license plate readers and cell phone location technology, as well as the use, possession and retention of collected data. Public input and Board discussions will follow once the County Executive submits his proposal. Supervisor Cook believes government should act with great care when collecting and retaining data on the activities of private citizens. He looks forward to working on a policy that protects the civil liberties of residents while permitting government to perform its necessary functions.