Vancouver’s closed-circuit TV public-surveillance system guidelines contradict privacy pledge

City told B.C. government closed-circuit television images wouldn’t be stored, but the policy shows this isn’t the case.

The City of Vancouver got a $400,000 provincial government grant to expand its closed-circuit television (CCTV) public-surveillance system—then ignored the commitments it made to protect citizens’ privacy. At least, that’s what’s suggested by two seemingly contradictory documents recently obtained by the Georgia Straight through freedom-of-information requests: the city’s CCTV privacy-impact assessment and its CCTV policy guidelines.  Read more in Georgia Straight.

Forced Drugging of Seniors Still Increasing

Ombudsperson, BCCLA and Greens criticize BC’s draconian laws.

I WAS READING THE CORONER’S REPORT on Kathleen Palamarek and something didn’t seem right. I’d been following her story since 2006. This was a diminutive, timid, 88-year-old nursing home resident with dementia and a heart condition, who’d been somewhat controversially diagnosed with dementia-related psychosis. She’d died of a heart attack. The coroner had found the antipsychotic olanzapine in her body.

Palamarek hadn’t been taking olanzapine willingly; she’d frequently complained about feeling woozy and “drugged up.” She couldn’t refuse the drug, though, because her doctors had declared her incapable and, when she’d protested, they’d certified her under BC’s Mental Health Act (MHA). Antipsychotics are being used increasingly in seniors’ homes as chemical restraints to pacify and control people. But Health Canada has issued the highest possible warnings to doctors that antipsychotics are “not approved for the treatment of patients with dementia-related psychosis” and that these powerful tranquillizers have been linked to a near-doubling of death rates in the elderly, mostly from heart attacks.

Yet here’s what coroner Stan Lajoie wrote about Kathleen Palamarek’s heart attack: “Death was clearly and unequivocally due to natural causes.” There was not so much as a hint anywhere in his seven-page report that her heart attack might have been linked to a drug known to dramatically increase heart attacks in the heart-weakened elderly. Why?

Click here for the rest of the article in April’s Focus magazine.

Privacy Commissioner Slams BC Surveillance Program

Documents suggest BC Solicitors General and the RCMP have been misleading the public for years.

“THERE’S NOTHING, in my view, to be alarmed about,” said Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham. He was speaking at February’s Reboot Privacy and Security Conference in Victoria, to 200 privacy experts, academics, and government and corporate executives from around North America, including Alberta Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton and BC Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

Graham was on a panel with Christopher Parsons, a UVic PhD candidate in political science and surveillance studies. Parsons was presenting findings from research done by him, me and tech expert and civil rights advocate Kevin McArthur into Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (findings first revealed in February’s Focus, “Hidden Surveillance”).

Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) involves equipping police cruisers with cameras and software that can read thousands of licence plates per hour and compare those plates to crime “hot lists.” The program operates as a joint effort between the RCMP, BC government and local BC police forces, ostensibly to primarily catch stolen vehicles, unlicensed drivers, and prohibited drivers.

Click here to read the rest of the article in the March issue of Focus.

Hidden Surveillance

Not many people know that local Victoria, BC police and the RCMP have already begun building a massive public traffic surveillance system. And no one knows how they’re going to use it.

The A News reporter and Nanaimo constable interwove: “amazing,” “blown away,” “overwhelming.” “This will revolutionize the way we police,” proclaimed Vancouver police in The Province.

Both media and police across North America have engaged in such trumpeting about Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR). The RCMP and BC government piloted ALPR in 2006 and have expanded it rapidly. BC now has 42 police cruisers equipped with the technology, including one with the Victoria Police Department (VicPD), one in Saanich, and two in our regional Integrated Road Safety Unit.

Normally, area police manually key in plate numbers to check suspicious cars in the databases of the Canadian Police Information Centre and ICBC. With ALPR, for $27,000, a police cruiser is mounted with two cameras and software that can read licence plates on both passing and stationary cars. According to the vendors, thousands of plates can be read hourly with 95-98 percent accuracy. These plate numbers are automatically compared for “hits” against ICBC and Canadian Police Information Centre “hot lists” of stolen vehicles; prohibited, unlicensed and uninsured drivers; and missing children. When such “hits” occur, plate photos are automatically stamped with time, date, and GPS coordinates, and stored. The officer will investigate details in the above-mentioned databases directly, and may pull over suspect vehicles.

At least, that’s how the popular story goes, and it sounds wonderful. However, some news stories have quoted academics or civil rights advocates worried about what else this plate recognition technology is, or could be, used for. ALPR was developed by the British government in the 1990s to track movements of the Irish Republican Army. By 2007, the International Association of Police Chiefs was issuing a resolution calling for “all countries” to begin using ALPR and sharing population surveillance data for fighting gangs and terrorism. Today in the UK, ALPR is used for charging tolls, “risk profiling” travellers, and tracking or intercepting people using cars photographed near protests.

But most Canadians’ concerns have been assuaged with statements like that in a Times Colonist article: “Both federal and provincial privacy commissioners have approved the system, which must comply with federal privacy legislation, said [RCMP Sgt. Warren] Nelson.”

Yet no one in Canada has actually investigated either police claims or the complaints.

That lack motivated me, along with Christopher Parsons, a University of Victoria PhD candidate in privacy and surveillance studies, and Kevin McArthur, a web architecture developer and high-tech civil rights advocate, to form a research team.

Federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart’s office gave us our first shock of many.

Clicke here to read the rest of this article in the February, 2012 issue of Focus magazine.