Victoria Police Department (VicPD) media rep Cst. Mike Russell dismissed critics of the automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) program on CFAX in January. Russell said, “There’s conspiracy theorists out there saying we’re creating a massive surveillance database on people…”
“You mean you’re not?” said fill-in host Rosa Harris-Adler, as both she and Russell chuckled.
“Funny enough we’re not doing that,” said Russell. He described it as merely a “technicality” that VicPD had been recording and passing data about all drivers to the RCMP “for deletion.”
We’re not sure who those wacky conspiracy theorists are, but we understand how they became, er, “confused.” There are already millions of records in the police’s ALPR database. And while Russell may have meant to simply suggest that the database doesn’t include records of the movements of most innocent drivers, well, the BC government and RCMP admitted the ALPR program was indeed collecting such records from 2006-2009 until the federal privacy commissioner complained to parliament. And since then, both RCMP reps and Russell’s boss, VicPD Chief Jamie Graham, have gone on the record numerous times saying their hope was to start building exactly such a mass surveillance database of the movements of all vehicles again, as soon as they’d gathered publicly-persuasive arguments for the policing value of keeping such records.
Nevertheless, Russell’s misleading mocking may be moot. VicPD, with the help of the RCMP who administer BC’s ALPR program, has finally agreed to implement our provincial Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations and stop performing that illegal “technicality.” However, as Focus noted in a January 2013 report, there’s been a concerning silence amongst BC’s federal RCMP detachments and RCMP-managed Integrated Road Safety Units as to whether they would voluntarily comply with provincial privacy law. In a recent email to Focus, RCMP Spt. Denis Boucher cleared up the matter. We asked if the RCMP intended to stop all ALPR cruisers around BC from collecting data on most innocent drivers. Boucher replied, “The intent is to implement the solution across the board.”
If we can trust our police, this battle to protect BC from moving a step closer to becoming a surveillance state has been won. Take a conspiracy theorist to dinner?