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Former solicitor general applauds license plate privacy report

A report on privacy problems with how police departments track vehicle license plates found support this week from the former solicitor general who oversaw introduction of the technology. *

"Your recent opinion on the sharing of information with respect to license plate reading, I thought, was right on the money," Chilliwack MLA John Les told Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham when she appeared this week in front of the legislature's committee on finance and government services with a budget proposal for her office.

In the report "Use of Automated License Plate Recognition Technology by the Victoria Police Department," Denham found that the local force was breaking B.C.'s privacy laws by sharing data with the RCMP about individuals who are not of interest for law enforcement.

"Where it was going was not where it was ever intended to go," said Les, who had been the solicitor general, responsible for overseeing policing in the province, for nearly three years starting in 2005.

Rob Wipond, the freelance writer whose work led to Denham's report, points out that in 2006 Les called it a "phenomenal technology" and "part of the future of policing in B.C.." At the time he approved of the RCMP keeping on file for three months information about plates with no violations, a practice Denham condemned. He also inaccurately claimed in media reports that the federal privacy commissioner had approved use of the technology. **

Les, by the way, also said it's become harder to protect privacy and added, "I blew up my Facebook account simply because I'm not going to sit around and overtly assist others in developing a database on me."

Denham sympathized with Les regarding Facebook, but said she's more concerned with how the government handles people's personal information than with what people choose to share through social media websites.

"When it comes to the government, you are trustees of citizens' data," she said. "How that data is actually used and linked can really affect an individual's life and their ability to get services, their ability to get a job."

* Paragraph clarified, 3 p.m. Nov. 23, 2012.

** Paragraph added, 3 p.m. Nov. 23, 2012.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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