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STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times Photo taken May 1, 2012 Lynn Davis, who was one of the founding members of Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the late 80's, is the first to receive the Virginia commemorative plates. The group reached the minimum number of applicants to qualify for the specialty tag. Now it needs to sell 1,000 in order to qualify for the revenue-sharing program that could bring needed funding to the organization.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Public safety and public trust
The debate over the limits of government surveillance is a national conversation that is taking place in venues as heated as the halls of Congress and as homey as the chambers of the Bedford County Board of Supervisors.
Bedford Sheriff Mike Brown this week found himself defending his department’s use of automatic license plate recognition technology in front of supervisors who have concerns about the practice. The office stores data gathered from its surveillance for up to 90 days to use in potential investigations, then purges it, Brown told the board.
The Virginia State Police dumps the license plate data it collects within 24 hours, unless it directly relates to a well-defined criminal investigation. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has advised the agency that passively collecting and storing license plate data, without a conncection to a specific criminal probe, violates state law.
Brown’s agency is widely recognized for its effective use of technology as a law enforcement tool. As a local elected official, Brown is in a position to respond to his community’s concerns and tailor enforcement measures accordingly. There is no cause to believe his office’s use of license plate readers is unreasonable.
But the concerns raised by supervisors do underscore the need for uniform standards across law enforcement agencies to govern the use and storage of information gathered through this surveillance. The standards should balance the legitimate needs of law enforcement with the privacy concerns of the people the police are sworn to protect. Public safety and public trust should not be mutually exclusive.
Turn about can cost you a few bucks
Surely Terry McAuliffe can scrape together $2,500 in change from beneath the seat of one of his electric cars and return it to a former donor now caught up in a corruption investigation.
But the Democratic candidate for governor, who’s been demanding that his opponent return $18,000 in tainted gifts, says no can do.
Republicans, sore that their standard bearer has become enmeshed in the never-ending Star Scientific scandal, are retaliating by making an issue of a campaign donation to McAuliffe during his failed attempt to win the Democratic nomination in 2009. The cash came from Jeffrey E. Thompson, a D.C. businessman whose name has surfaced amid allegations of dirty tricks during the 2008 presidential primary.
The Washington Post this week reported allegations from court documents and interviews that Thompson paid a marketing executive more than $608,000 to employ “street teams” to drum up votes for Hillary Clinton, who ultimately lost the nomination to Barack Obama.
Cuccinelli hasn’t exactly been a model for how to expiditiously handle questions about conflicts of interest. He stalled and dissembled for months before finally giving a Richmond charity $18,000 as an act of contrition for accepting vacations, a catered Thanksgiving dinner and other gifts from Jonnie Williams Sr., a business executive who is challenging a hefty tax bill by the state that has lingered in court. Williams was far more generous to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who previously returned his gifts and is facing two investigations into the matter.
The donation is just the latest chapter in a gubernatorial contest that has been long on finger-pointing and short on moral high ground. McAuliffe can make it a short chapter by giving the money back. And voters can brace themselves for the next round of muck.
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