Victoria police and the RCMP have listened to privacy complaints and are changing the rules on automated scanners that record your licence plate.
The scanners on police cruisers can record licence-plate numbers, pictures of vehicles and the time and location of the recording. The software can check plates to look for anyone who is on file in the Canadian Police Information Centre, the database that tracks missing persons, criminal histories and outstanding warrants. The police officer can then take any necessary action.
However, the system records all the licence numbers it scans, even if you were just passing by on your way to the corner store. Under the current system, all the scans — even the “non-hit” ones of drivers who have done nothing wrong — are sent to the RCMP, which then deletes them.
B.C. privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in November that it was illegal for the Victoria police to transfer that information to another agency.
This week, the police announced they will change the system, so only plates that get a hit will be stored. The others will be deleted at the end of the officer’s shift.
It’s such a reasonable step, it’s not clear why it wasn’t done at the beginning.
Victoria police Chief Jamie Graham aroused the fears of many in August when he backed the idea of keeping all the data from the scans, both hit and non-hit, for use in future investigations.
The chief argued that those who are doing nothing wrong have nothing to fear. In a democracy, we have to turn that around: If we’re doing nothing wrong, keep us out of your databases.
Graham cannot guarantee the good intentions of those who will come after him. Yes, the job of the police would be easier if they knew where every person was at every moment of every day. But the price is too high.
Perhaps we are moving inexorably toward the surveillance state, but if we are being dragged there, let’s go kicking and screaming every inch of the way.
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