As most of you know quite well, April 15 of last week was the day in our country when working Americans were compelled to submit to the federal government substantial portions of their income earned in the previous year.
It also, as it happened, was the occasion of this year’s reconvened session of the commonwealth’s General Assembly, known as the “veto session,” where state delegates and senators gathered to consider the vetoes and amendments returned by the governor in response to the acts of assembly passed earlier this year.
It is my privilege as the delegate representing the 16th House District to provide you this partial report of that session, which adjourned last Friday afternoon; and in so doing deliver a contrast between our modern state and federal governments.
One of the acts that obtained particular attention at our session was House Bill 1673, which was introduced by my seatmate, Del. Rich Anderson.
The bill, titled the Government Data and Dissemination Practices Act, places limitations on the collection and use of personal information by law enforcement agencies.
A portion of the bill’s summary explains the proposed law as follows: “unless a criminal or administrative warrant has been issued, law-enforcement and regulatory agencies shall not use surveillance technology to collect or maintain personal information where such data is of unknown relevance and is not intended for prompt evaluation and potential use regarding suspected criminal activity or terrorism by any individual or organization.”
The measure also limits the amount of time data may be retained when collected with particular technologies while addressing exceptions made for active criminal investigations and cases involving missing persons.
The General Assembly’s task was to respond to the governor’s proposed amendments to the bill.
Some of the amendments, which were technical in nature, were agreed to without controversy. Other, more substantial proposals were rejected.
Significantly, these included the governor’s efforts to extend the allowable retention period for state obtained personal data.
Although I could appreciate some of the arguments made in support of these amendments, I joined the majority of my colleagues in defeating them and sending the re-enrolled bill back to the governor for his signature.
My judgment is that the bill as written strikes the appropriate balance that would allow legitimate law enforcement action while responding to the privacy concerns brought about by the prominence of digital technologies and their potential abuse by government agents.
In this way, this legislation illustrates a key function of our representative form of government: the duty to guard against potential threats to the rights and liberties retained by the people.
James Madison famously opined that, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
Consideration of Madison’s point returns our thoughts to America’s modern tax day and the difference in restraint exhibited by your government in Richmond in contrast to that of Washington, D.C., where billions of dollars are daily borrowed, budgets remain unbalanced, and our shared national debt is today over 18 trillion dollars.
May we as United States citizens, like Madison, once again insist that our national leaders oblige us with a portion of self-control.
Del. Les Adams of Chatham represents the 16th District, which includes most of Pittsylvania County as well as Martinsville and part of Henry County.