Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

Police use of licence plate scans breaks privacy law: commissioner

British Columbia's information and privacy commissioner has condemned how the Victoria police department uses the information scanned from licence plates on people's vehicles.

The technology, known as Automated Licence Plate Recognition, is a useful tool for law enforcement, allowed commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a 32-page report released today. It lets Victoria police compare plate numbers to an alert list kept by the RCMP of vehicles that may be stolen or otherwise of interest.

Denham's main concern is about what happens to the numbers that do not appear in the RCMP's list. The ALPR system also records the time and location of the scan and takes a picture of the vehicle and the licence plate.

"This is personal information about the owners of vehicles that are scanned by ALPR, but who are not of interest to police," she wrote in her report, which considered whether the Victoria police department's practices comply with B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

"In my view, the use and disclosure of this information for unspecified purposes would not be justifiable under FIPPA," she said. "Collecting personal information for law enforcement purposes does not extend to retaining information on the suspicionless activities of citizens just in case it may be useful in the future."

The Victoria police department appreciates the commissioner's role, but "disagrees with certain elements of the Commissioner’s characterization of how the ALPR program functions," chief Jamie Graham said in an emailed statement. The department never reveals 'non-hit' data and transfers it to the RCMP "for the sole purpose of its destruction."

Commissioner Denham's full report is available on the OIPC's website.

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

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus