News

Licence-plate camera use to continue by Victoria police

The Victoria Police Department will continue to operate its controversial automated licence plate recognition program while it reviews how to comply with recommendations from B.C.'s privacy commissioner.

That differs from their counterparts in Saanich, who chose to suspend the program until privacy concerns are resolved.

Automated licence plate recognition (ALPR) uses cruiser-mounted cameras to scan passing vehicles and check them against police databases, generating “hit” data.

It allows police to identify stolen vehicles and prohibited drivers, but the system also flags registered owners involved in court action, parolees and even people associated to others with criminal records.

In her Nov. 15 report, B.C. Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham found VicPD is violating the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by transferring “non-hit” data to the RCMP, who administer the program, even though that information is deleted within 30 minutes of receipt.

Denham recommended that VicPD find a way of immediately deleting non-hit data from its servers, and that it restrict the use of the program to include only traffic-related and warrant information.

Those recommendations were addressed for the first time at a Victoria police board meeting Tuesday.

“The goal is to have the program come into compliance, whether it’s the camera, whether it’s the software, how the information is transmitted,” Mayor Dean Fortin said Wednesday.

“Those are all technical issues that our police department will be working (on) with the RCMP to (bring the system) into compliance,” Fortin said. VicPD will report back to the board in three months on progress made implementing the recommendations.

The decision to continue to collect data sits in contrast to the Saanich police, who were operating the cameras, but  suspended their use after the release of Denham’s report.

“We don’t run the program, we are a user of the (RCMP’s) service,” said Saanich police Sgt. Dean Jantzen. “Any changes in policy or procedures or even any technical changes will flow from the RCMP.”

VicPD Chief Const. Jamie Graham has said he “respectfully disagrees” with the report, but until now it was unclear whether VicPD intended to comply with the recommendations.

The B.C. privacy commissioner has the authority to enforce compliance if public bodies refuse to make changes.

“Typically what happens after an investigation report is that staff from our office will liaise with the public body to facilitate compliance,” said Cara McGregor, spokeswoman at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. “We have extended that offer to the VicPD.”

The RCMP has indicated it is considering retaining greater amounts of ALPR data in the future. An RCMP spokesperson could not be reached by the News’ deadline.

Fortin said he is hopeful VicPD and the RCMP will comply with the recommendations.

– with files from Kyle Slavin

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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