Researchers Encouraged by BC Privacy Commissioner’s Investigation Report

November 15, 2012
in Category: Blog, Police, Technology Privacy Surveillance
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Researchers Encouraged by BC Privacy Commissioner’s Investigation Report

For Immediate Release
November 15, 2012

Researchers Encouraged by BC Privacy Commissioner’s Investigation Report

The three researchers whose report prompted the BC Privacy Commissioner’s investigation into Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) are very encouraged by the findings of Elizabeth Denham’s report, released today.

Since 2006, the RCMP and a growing number of BC police forces have used cruiser-mounted automated camera systems to ubiquitously take pictures of BC vehicles’ licence plates. Ostensibly used for catching stolen vehicles and unlicensed drivers, the researchers found that the ALPR system had “function creeped” into many more, highly questionable uses. As a result of concerns raised by the researchers, the Commissioner investigated how Victoria Police have been using ALPR. Her findings validate the concerns that the researchers’ have raised to the Commissioner, to police, and to the public, especially in relation to the technology functioning as a massive public surveillance system.

Amongst other findings, the Privacy Commissioner determined that Victoria Police were:

  • improperly collecting personal information in many circumstances
  • compiling information about the movements of too wide a range of people, many innocent of any crimes, including parents with legal custody of children, individuals who have attempted suicide in the past, and individuals prohibited from operating a boat
  • improperly disclosing and sharing personal information with the RCMP
  • misleading to the public when suggesting that any Canadian privacy commissioner has approved an ALPR system in Canada

She recommended that the Victoria Police Department immediately modify their ALPR program to bring it into compliance with BC’s privacy legislation. For example, the department must:

  • amend the composition of their surveillance categories to include only information that is related to a legitimate law enforcement purpose
  • work with the Ministry of Justice to inform the public of the full scope of the ALPR program
  • configure the program so that innocent individuals’ personal information is deleted automatically

Not all the researchers concerns have been addressed yet, however. For example, neither issues concerning the overall inaccuracy of the ALPR system nor whether data is still retained on too many people have been addressed. While Commissioner Denham has determined what is legal, it is now up to the public to establish whether this type of police surveillance is right.

The researchers conclude: “This is a great day for British Columbians who value privacy, freedom of association and movement, and their right to be free of unwarranted government surveillance. The rule of law has prevailed, and we trust that our police and government will obey it moving forward.”

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Reseachers’ Contact Information:

Rob Wipond
(250) 388-6064
rob (at) robwipond-dot-com

Kevin McArthur
kevin@stormtide.ca

Christopher Parsons
(778) 977-5653
parsons@uvic.ca

Previous articles from the reseachers’ work examining ALPR can be found here.

The Privacy Commissioner’s press release is here. The full report is here.

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