By Published On: July 30th, 20122 Comments

I’m thrilled that the BC Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has decided to launch a full investigation into the use of Automatic Licence Plate Recognition by police in British Columbia. Here are links to all my published writings on the topic, plus my media release, and the OIPC’s press release.

Hidden Surveillance (article)
RCMP and VicPD ALPR Documents Released (documents)
Privacy Commissioner Slams Provincial Surveillance Program (Article)
What the Privacy Commissioner Really Said (Documents)
RCMP: We’ve Never Spoken About ALPR Program (Blog update)



July 30, 2012


Three independent researchers are praising the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia (OIPC) for today’s announcement that it is launching a review into the use of Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) in the province. (See the full text of the OIPC announcement below.) For the past year, the researchers have been using access to information laws to investigate BC police ALPR programs, and have shared their findings through articles, presentations, and blogs.

“The Commissioner’s decision to investigate and issue a public report is an important validation of the concerns we’ve been raising,” said freelance journalist Rob Wipond. “Authorities have frequently represented the ALPR program to the public as having been ‘reviewed and approved’ by Canada’s privacy commissioners, but that’s not true.”

Since 2005, the RCMP and a growing number of municipal and regional police forces in BC have been using cruiser-mounted automated camera systems to take snapshots of thousands of vehicle licence plates per hour. Ostensibly used mainly for catching stolen vehicles and unlicensed drivers, the researchers found that much of the ALPR data is being saved and stored for undisclosed purposes.

“Tracking the movements of innocent drivers represents a serious threat to Canadian privacy rights – rights which are essential for our freedom of expression and association,” said technical security specialist and digital rights activist Kevin McArthur. “When combined with new federal and provincial laws expanding other types of secret digital surveillance and information gathering, the dangers are all the more heightened. So this review could not be more timely.”

The researchers have been frequently stymied by police in their efforts to obtain information about ALPR. They feel more open public disclosure and discussion is needed, especially in light of recent indications that ALPR data may be being combined with data concerning people’s ethnicity, blood type, and financial transactions. “Hopefully this will lead to a more public airing of how BC police forces are conducting surveillance in public spaces, and of how much information they’re sharing with other authorities across North America,” said University of Victoria political science PhD candidate Christopher Parsons. “Ideally, this review will also serve to remind government ministries that they must protect the basic privacy rights of all citizens.”

Wipond published two articles reporting on the group’s investigations in Victoria’s Focus magazine. The articles have drawn international interest online, hitting the front pages of Slashdot and Reddit, and drawing a combined 100,000 readers. Parsons presented more of the group’s findings at the Reboot Privacy and Security Conference in February, 2012. In March, Wipond, Parsons and McArthur sent a 16-page letter to the OIPC outlining their concerns and questions about the BC ALPR program.

Rob Wipond        Christopher Parsons        Kevin McArthur

For more information:

Parsons will also soon be presenting the team’s research findings, and comparing them to current uses of ALPR in the UK, at a Scalable Measures for Automated Recognition Technologies workshop in Italy involving industry, academic and policy experts.


For Immediate Release
July 30, 2012

Office of the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner

Privacy Commissioner to investigate licence plate recognition and disclosure of
risks to health and safety

VICTORIA – B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham today
announced two new investigations, prompted by written submissions from concerned

The first is a review of the use of automated licence plate recognition (“ALPR”)
programs by law enforcement and whether they comply with the Freedom of
Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

ALPR is a technology that allows for automated collection of photographs of
vehicles and licence plates by cameras mounted on police cars, which are then
compared to a list of licence plate numbers associated with individuals who are
of interest to police. The program instantly notifies police when there is a

Members of the public have raised concerns about the use of ALPR technology by
municipal police, and the implications of this surveillance technology on the
privacy of British Columbians.

While the Commissioner’s investigation will focus on the use of ALPR by the
Victoria Police Department, the published report will provide guidance to law
enforcement agencies using the technology in B.C.

The ALPR investigation is underway and a public report is expected later this

The second investigation focuses on public interest disclosure under section 25
of FIPPA, which requires public bodies to disclose information in the public
interest, such as environmental harms or public risks to health and safety.

The Commissioner received a research report from the University of Victoria’s
Environmental Law Clinic, on behalf of the Freedom of Information and Privacy
Association, examining the extent to which certain public bodies are complying
with s.25. The Commissioner’s investigation will focus on the effectiveness of
this section of the Act.

The public interest disclosure investigation (s.25) will commence in August. A
public report will be issued when the investigation has concluded.


Media Contact:

Cara McGregor
Manager of Communications and Public Education
Office of the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner
250 217-5535

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  1. F. Robertson August 4, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Thanks again for all the work on this vitally important issue in our “modern democracy”.
    I know now, that in Victoria for instance, we have more police per capita than we really need relevant
    to our crime statistics. So, instead of trying to catch real criminals they are essentially harassing the
    public and eroding our civil liberties. This is supposed to be for our good? It reminds me of the movie
    “Minority Report”. Where does it end? Is this the democracy my father, uncles, aunts and all those
    who served overseas and in other defining conflicts the past century were putting it all on the line for?
    It is a sad state of affairs today, which the younger generation has the burden of stopping if they are
    to restore that “freedom and liberty” which so many died for, and which citizens of other nations have ironically envied us for. It’s that or leave Canada to live in other places where democracy is still a fresh concept and
    that sense of true possibilities and feeling of being “free” is being appreciated for all its worth.

  2. Rob Wipond August 7, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Yes, it concerns me the most that representatives from our police forces seem abjectly naive (or are playing that way) about the dangers of building infrastructures for widespread population surveillance. Thanks for your thoughts, F Rob.

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