At a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the Virginia General Assembly Building in Richmond, State Senator Richard H. Stuart (R-28) and Delegate Richard L. Anderson (R-51) discussed their amendment to the Constitution of Virginia that incorporates a "Fourth Amendment for the 21st Century."
The two legislators were joined by former Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II and Virginia ACLU Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, both recognized as experts on Constitutional law and civil liberties.
Sen. Stuart has introduced SJ 302, while Anderson has introduced HJ 578. Both bills do three things.
First, they incorporate explicit protections in the Virginia Constitution against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Second, they extend the protection of warrants to digital communications and information, which was unforeseen by the original authors of the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions.
Third, they incorporate third party provisions that protect disclosures of personal and digital data to another party against disclosure to a third party.
In describing his bill, Del. Anderson emphasized that these protections are needed in the face of recent disclosures that several Hampton Roads jurisdictions authorized the collection and sharing of personal and private telephone data among jurisdictions. In one case, a city manager authorized the program without the authority to do so.
Stated Anderson, a retired 30-year Air Force colonel, "I have received an avalanche of communications from constituents that they want this amendment as protection against intrusive government."
Former Commonwealth's Attorney Senator Stuart said, "after two and a quarter centuries without our own "Fourth Amendment," Virginia citizens, law enforcement officials, and judges will get needed clarity about our constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures." He further stated that "I hear continually from our neighbors that they want these protections."
In explaining his perspective, Cuccinelli observed that "founding father and fellow Virginian James Madison authored the federal Fourth Amendment, and today's historic amendment to Virginia's Constitution is entirely consistent with those original principles and purposes."
ACLU Executive Director Gastanaga stated that "there is no liberty without privacy...if you want the individual information of any person in Virginia, you should go get a warrant…this would strengthen the Fourth Amendment…this extends the Fourth into the digital age…the mere fact that you're willing to go onto Facebook doesn't mean that you're agreeing to the government to have access to that information."
Anderson further stated that "we have even tweaked the language originally filed to ensure constitutional protections for the safety of our police officers. This 21st Century version is consistent with every great constitutional principle for which I served my country, and swore to uphold and defend."
The amendment is supported by a broad array of people and organizations across the political spectrum, from the ACLU to the Virginia Tea Party Patriots.