Victoria researchers’ work prompts VicPD privacy investigation

Use of licence plate scanning technology questioned

Saanich police traffic safety unit member Const. Janis Carmena demonstrates the automated licence plate reader

Is Big Brother really watching you?

Three Victoria privacy advocates have spent the past two years trying to answer that question, digging up scraps of information on a controversial police technology called the automated licence plate recognition system.

“We have been stymied at every level,” said Chris Parsons, a University of Victoria PhD candidate specializing in privacy issues.

The device uses police cruiser-mounted cameras to automatically capture up to 3,000 licence plates per hour. It then notifies officers of a “hit” on uninsured and prohibited owners, as well as stolen vehicles.

The technology is used throughout British Columbia and is administered by the RCMP. In Greater Victoria, VicPD, Saanich police and the Integrated Road Safety Unit use it regularly.

What makes the program so concerning is critics say data collected from “non-hit” vehicles is kept on encrypted RCMP servers for two years. Although it’s not used, the information could be referenced for investigative purposes to retrace vehicle movements.

The RCMP insists such actions are not taking place, but the Mountie in charge of the program, Supt. Denis Boucher, said his office is considering expanding the program.

“It’s called function creep,” Parsons said. “That means every citizen that drives, (police) want to be able to track who they are and where they’re at.”

Parsons said the information is already being cross-referenced with child custody and other court records unrelated to driving infractions, but Boucher denies this.

“It doesn’t flag somebody simply because he’s got a criminal record,” Boucher said. “These are for hits where we have outstanding action to be taken against an individual.”

To resolve these concerns, Parsons and fellow researchers Bruce Wipond and Kevin McArthur submitted their findings to B.C.’s Office of the  Information and Privacy Commissioner, which set in motion an investigation into VicPD’s use of the technology.

Because the RCMP is outside of provincial jurisdiction, commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s investigation is limited in scope to municipal police services.

“The investigation will look at general questions like what kind of information (VicPD) are collecting, how are they using it, is it retained or disclosed to anybody?” said Cara McGregor, privacy commissioner spokesperson.

Saanich police purchased a plate reader of its own this year and it has been in operation for a couple months.

Sgt. Dean Jantzen said the device has “proven its worth” in the time it’s been in operation. “It generates a lot of activity for our traffic safety officers,” he said.

Jantzen, though not trained on the machine, reaffirmed that “non-hit” data is never used.

“As long as you’re not a suspended driver, that your licence is in good standing, that you have valid insurance, there’s no reason you’ll ever come into conflict with this device,” he said.

Denham’s report is due to be published next month and will be the first privacy review of the technology in Canada.

In a statement, VicPD Chief Const. Jamie Graham said Automated Licence Plate Recognition is an “incredibly important application that directly contributes to improved road safety.”

VicPD, which began using the program in March 2011, is co-operating with the investigation and has developed internal policies to govern the use of the device, department spokesman Mike Tucker said.

– with files from Kyle Slavin and Jeff Nagel

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Challengers topple incumbents in several South Island races

2018 civic election ushers in new faces across the CRD

Victoria and Saanich voters elect to move ahead with amalgamation talks

Victoria and Saanich voters have chosen to move ahead with exploring amalgamation… Continue reading

Prank pizzas delivered to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps’ campaign celebration

The fake orders happened throughout Helps’ campaign

Saanich passenger caught smoking weed in a car issued $230 fine

Saanich police did a field sobriety test on the driver and deemed it safe for him to drive

VIDEO: Tent city moves to Woodwynn Farm, arrests made

The group is asking the government to provide housing for 60 tent city members

WATCH: Twelve Angry Jurors puts a new spin on an old tale

Canadian College of Performing Arts opens season with reworked version of Reginald Rose teleplay

2018 municipal election: Few surprises on Vancouver Island

16 incumbent mayors will continue in their positions for four more years

Crime Stoppers most wanted for Greater Victoria for Oct. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you support amalgamation for communities in the Capital Region?

Residents in Victoria and Saanich will be voting on Oct. 20 on… Continue reading

MLA to become Nanaimo’s next mayor, could weaken NDP’s grasp on power

Leonard Krog’s win will trigger a byelection when he gives up his provincial seat

Horvat nets OT winner as Canucks beat Bruins 2-1

Young Vancouver star had spirited scrap earlier in contest

Team Canada gold medal winners for first time in world curling championship

Team Canada earned gold in Kelowna at the 2018 Winn Rentals World Mixed Curling Championship

Payette invites critics to ‘come and spend a few days’ with her

Governor General Julie Payette made her first official to B.C. back in March

More pot stores expected in B.C. in coming ‘weeks and months’: attorney general

Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth visited the new BC Cannabis Store in the province’s Interior

Most Read