Category Archives: Blog

Lobbyist Registrar Investigating BC Police Chiefs

I recently investigated two sister groups, the BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police and the BC Association of Chiefs of Police. I found that both groups are playing a shellgame with the law: On the one hand, they’re claiming they are “private groups” whose activities are not subject to BC’s freedom of information laws covering public bodies. On the other hand, they are operating these “private groups” out of their police departments using police staff and public police resources. (Read the article to see how much more complicated and dubious their shellgames become when I try to obtain even basic documentation about their groups.) And even though they spend a lot of time meeting with politicians and bureaucrats and helping craft legislation and lobby for laws, they also think they don’t need to be legally registered as a lobby group because they’re just doing all this as part of their normal day to day policing duties.

At the end of that article, I explained that I had submitted complaints to both the Lobbyist Registry and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, arguing that these police chief groups were either public bodies subject to laws covering public bodies, or private groups subject to laws covering private groups — they could not escape being either. One way or another, I argued, our police chiefs have to be subject to at least some laws of transparency and accountability like the rest of our society.

The OIPC is investigating. And now, in a recent email to me, the Lobbyist Registrar has deemed these concerns to be valid enough to warrant an investigation as well. Here is the full text of the email from the Lobbyist Registrar:

Dear Rob Wipond:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your complaint under the BC Lobbyists Registration Act (“LRA”) that the Association of Chiefs of Police may be engaging in activities that qualify as lobbying and have not registered as required by the LRA.

I attach for your reference our policy in respect of complaints.

Requesting the Registrar Conduct an Investigation

7.1 Where a person requests the Registrar to conduct an investigation to establish whether there is or has been compliance with this Act, the requester will be expected to provide the registrar with the name and address of the subject of the allegation and a description of the facts that are alleged to constitute a violation of the LRA.
7.2 If no investigation is commenced as a result of the request, and the request for investigation has not otherwise been made public, the identity of the requester will be kept confidential.
7.3 If an investigation is commenced as a result of the request, the identity of the person requesting the investigation may be disclosed to the person under investigation, to the extent that it is necessary to conduct the investigation and adhere to the principles of procedural fairness.
7.4 Despite paragraph 8.3, the registrar may direct that the identity of the person requesting the investigation, and any information disclosed by that person, be kept confidential to the exclusion of any other person including the person directly affected, on terms the registrar considers necessary, if the registrar believes that direction is necessary to ensure the proper administration of the Act, including the protecting that person from physical or other harm.
7.5 A person who requests an investigation has no rights to notice or information during the investigation, and has no greater procedural rights in an investigation or subsequent hearing than any member of the public.

Please be advised that we have not disclosed your identity to the Association of Chiefs of Police, however, given the public nature of this complaint, it is not our intention to keep your identity secret, unless you can provide reasons otherwise.

In response to your complaint, we have commenced an investigation under section 7.1 of the LRA, which states that if it is considered necessary to establish whether there is or has been compliance by any person with the LRA or the regulations, the Registrar may conduct an investigation.  You will be notified of our findings in respect of your complaint.
Yours truly,
Mary Carlson
Deputy Registrar of Lobbyists for British Columbia
Website www.lobbyistsregistrar.bc.ca

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.”

***********

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.

Let Me Tell You Why

Someone blows up a bus or a building or a bunch of people, and then everywhere, every time, a universal, almost archetypal cry goes up asking, “Why? Why?! How could anyone do such a thing? What kind of a person would do this? Why?!” And the question is always repeated everywhere in the media, too, even as they splash the blood and guts across every screen and page: “Why?!”

And it’s an understandable question. You might ask it yourself sometime.

When soldiers in airplanes blast your neighbourhood into the stone age and everyone you know and love is mangled or killed, you might ask, “Why?”

When your child is caught under the bombed rubble, unreachable, screaming to her death, you could ask, “Why?”

When you’re stumbling alone through the burning city with your skin dripping off your charred bones, you probably will ask, “Why?”

Why.

Well, I can tell you why.

Let me tell you why.

Because we glorify killing. Around the world, humans have glorified killing. We build monuments to warriors and honour them on anniversaries of battles.

And we teach our children to kill. We tell them that war can be important, noble and beautiful. We tell them killing can bring peace. Killing can be a moral, righteous act, and sometimes it’s the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your country — even the only way. Killing can be an expression of the deepest love. Killing can be God’s work. We tell them war has toppled evil, godless tyrants and liberated legions of the enslaved and downtrodden. We tell them that often through history the real, final solution has not been widespread changes of heart, not insight, not creative cures, not concession, not diplomacy, surrender or compromise; we say killing was the cure. Killing has been a natural, normal act throughout human history, we tell them, and preparing to kill is sober and wise.

We even advertise it. Would you let a serial murderer praise the greatness of killing on a series of primetime television commercials about being the best you can be?

Yes, you would. You do.

And we’ll pay them to kill. We take teenagers who may be lonely or depressed, who may have behavioural problems, who may have sexual confusions, who may be spiritually vacuous or filled with religious or political propaganda, who may not be particularly intelligent or sensitive, who may know little of life, who may drink alcohol often, who are simply teenagers, who may have grown up in a culture obsessed with portrayals of gratuitous violence either aggrandized or imaginatively, grotesquely splattered, and we encourage them and pay them to enter into training to learn to kill on command without questioning.

Then finally we act surprised. We act shocked and outraged when our soldiers rape women and murder children. When they torture with glee, when they wantonly massacre families, we all wonder in supportive togetherness, “Why?”

Of course, there’s nothing at all surprising about it. Let’s get this straight: We practise and endorse an official policy of training hormone-charged, out-of-control kids to kill. Duh.

And then we support and encourage each other in reacting with utter shock when some of these kids end up uncontrollably killing. What th-?? How stupid are we, exactly?

And of course, basically, this whole charade of pretending we don’t understand the true nature and consequences of what we ourselves believe and do makes us look like such pathetic, stupid, ugly, violent hypocrites, that some people sometimes become overwhelmed with a desire to kill us.

Kind of obvious really, isn’t it?

So that’s why.

Next time, you’ll understand.

City of Vancouver CCTV Policy Documents

For interested researchers, here is the City of Vancouver’s Privacy Impact Assessment for its Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance camera systems, written in 2009. And here’s the City of Vancouver REM CCTV Policy, active as of 2012, but written in 2005. I obtained these through freedom of information requests. For more background on these documents and the contradictions they expose, see my article in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, which also discusses the 2009 report to Vancouver Council about the CCTV project.

RCMP: We’ve Never Spoken about Our ALPR Program

After eleven months of asking for “all documents of all types” about their Automatic Licence Plate Recognition vehicle surveilliance program, and four months with my complaint in process with the federal Information Commissioner, this week the RCMP Access to Information and Privacy staff finally sent me documents!!!

A handful of documents that is… Well, the RCMP had managed to get my request limited to a small number of requests for specific documents. And here’s what I finally got:

  • A copy of a report about ALPR written by several professors and already available on the internet.
  • Several letters to and from the federal Privacy Commissioner’s office, which the Privacy Commissioner’s office gave to me two months ago.
  • A 2-page “terms and conditions” document for use of ALPR which RCMP staff had already given me four months ago.
  • One redacted print-out of one ALPR database record, along with a statement that to get the rest of the data records from Victoria alone would cost me $8,660 in search fees.

That’s it. That’s all.

And to top it off, according to RCMP Access to Information staff, do you know how many emails about ALPR have been sent to or received by Sgt. Warren Nelson, the head of the ALPR program in BC, over the last 7 years as the program has expanded from a few cars to 42 cars? ZERO.

That’s right. Apparently, Nelson hasn’t even written those emails about ALPR to me that I seem to have copies of. Or else, RCMP ATIP staff have determined that emails to journalists are not public information…

And guess how many meetings the RCMP have had at which ALPR was discussed in the past seven years? You guessed it: ZERO. Or else, they’ve simply never taken any minutes, even once.

Finally, there is, according to the RCMP, no up-to-date operational manual for the RCMP’s ALPR system.

This is a blatant and egregious breaking of the law by the RCMP with regard to public access to information.

It boggles the mind that BC Minister of Justice Shirley Bond just signed the whole province up for another 20 years of this, without getting any oversight and accountability mechanisms built in.