A technology meant to help in the war on auto theft has come under fire, launching a review by the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia.
Commissioner Elizabeth Denham says her office is now reviewing automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) programs by law enforcement and if they comply with B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The ALPR system – launched as a pilot project by the RCMP in concert with the British Columbia government – uses pattern recognition software to read and record licence plates of parked or moving vehicles observed by cameras mounted on police cars, notes information from the RCMP.
The scanned information is then compared to a list of licence plate numbers associated with individuals of interest to police, adds a press release from the privacy commissioner’s office. Police are notified when there is a match.
The RCMP reports the ALPR program assists in the recovery of stolen vehicles, property and related vehicle criminality, as well as helps reduce auto theft and motor vehicle violations, in particular among prohibited, suspended, unlicensed and uninsured drivers. “The prohibited, suspended and unlicensed drivers are major road safety issues since the drivers lost their licences because of poor driving behaviours which cause collisions.”
The privacy commissioner launched the current review following receipt of written concerns by members of the public over the use of ALPR by municipal police. The probe will focus on ALPR use by the Victoria Police Department, although the published report, expected this summer, will provide guidance to law enforcement agencies throughout British Columbia that use the technology.