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Investigation Finds Police Used 'Very Disturbing' and 'Illegal' Data-Sharing Network

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Police in five cities in Virginia have been participating in a data-sharing network in which each city agreed to collect, store and share phone record information with minimal oversight, according to a nonprofit investigative journalism outlet.

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According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Suffolk all were part of the "Hampton Roads Telephone Analysis Sharing Network," which collects records of phone calls, including numbers dialed, duration of calls and even the contents of mobile devices seized by police during arrests. The investigation also found police stopped short of court orders and probable cause warrants in some cases, issuing subpoenas to collect at least some of their data.

The memo establishing the network states that each participating city agrees to “share telephone intelligence information derived from any source with the [task force] including: subpoenaed telephone call detail records, subpoenaed telephone subscriber information, and seized mobile devices."

The Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, which is the leader of the network, maintains a "telephone analysis room" at 500 W. Park Lane in Hampton, Virginia, according to the memo.

The discovery of the network prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia to voice concerns over its legality. ACLU Virginia staff attorney Rob Poggenklass said his initial reaction was that "it's very disturbing and illegal under Virginia law."

The Virginia State Police, which is a member of the drug task force that maintains the data-sharing network, declined to sign the memorandum of understanding established for participation in the network because state police "is governed by the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act," state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told TheBlaze.

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The Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act states that individual privacy is "directly affected" by the extensive collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of personal information and that the increase in the use of computers and information technology has "greatly magnified the harm" that can occur as a result.

Hampton Police Division Sgt. Jason Price said his agency “gathers, shares and retains information in accordance with local, state and federal law. More specific answers, he said, could "jeopardize on-going and future investigations." And despite allegations to the contrary, Hampton City Attorney Vanessa Valldejuli said because of recent court rulings, data is gathered “only via search warrant or court order consistent with law.”

Norfolk police spokesman Daniel Hudson and Suffolk police spokeswoman Diana Klink each told TheBlaze that police departments in those respective cities have participated in the network since 2013 "in accordance with local, state and federal law." 

"The Suffolk Police Department does not comment on investigative techniques as to not jeopardize future or on-going investigations.  The Suffolk Police Department gathers,shares and retains information after obtaining a search warrant or court order in accordance with local, state and federal law," Klink said.

Police departments in Hampton, Newport News and Chesapeake did not respond to requests for comment from TheBlaze.

Editor's note: This post has been updated with comments from Suffolk spokeswoman Diana Klink. 

(H/T: Center for Investigative Reporting)

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