Aug 022012

Devices being used as surveillance tools, activist says


Sgt. Rick Stewart explains the workings of automated licence plate cameras, which scan and check the status of vehicle licences.
Sgt. Rick Stewart explains the workings of automated  licence plate cameras, which scan and check the status of vehicle licences.

Photograph by: ian lindsay , Vancouver  Sun

Provincial RCMP and Vancouver police are using the same automated licence  plate scanners that landed the Victoria police department at the centre of a  B.C. privacy commissioner investigation Monday.

Privacy advocates say the scanning devices are being used as covert  surveillance tools to track citizens and capture unnecessary personal  information about their whereabouts without consent.

“Tracking the movements of innocent drivers represents a serious threat to  Canadian privacy rights — rights which are essential to our freedom of  expression and association,” digital rights activist Kevin McArthur said  Monday.

McArthur is one of three independent researchers behind a report that  prompted the privacy commissioner’s investigation.

Along with journalist Rob Wipond and University of Victoria graduate student  Christopher Parsons, McArthur found much of the scanner data in Victoria was  being saved and stored for undisclosed purposes.

“Authorities have frequently represented the [Automated Licence Plate  Recognition] program to the public as having been ‘reviewed and approved’ by  Canada’s privacy commissioners, but that’s not true,” Wipond said.

But Supt. Denis Boucher, head of RCMP Traffic Services in B.C., said no new  information files are created in the scanning process.

“It’s not used to gather intelligence, it’s used for enforcement action based  on a valid criteria.”

If a plate number is linked to any documented illegal activities, a “hit” is  created, which the officer runs on an in-car computer to verify the  information.

creynolds  AT

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