Privacy issues spur Saanich police to halt use of licence-plate cameras

The Saanich Police Department has suspended its use of automated licence plate cameras in the wake of concerns raised by B.C.'s privacy commissioner.

Saanich mayor and police board chairman Frank Leonard said the decision was made "in the spirit of good faith" after commissioner Elizabeth Denham's investigative report was released last week. "We're taking a wait and see approach," said Leonard, whose department only has one camera system.

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Denham ordered the Victoria Police Department and other B.C. police forces to change the way they use the licence plate camera technology, amid fears it could become a mass surveillance tool.

The time and location of drivers who aren't suspects and haven't done anything wrong, should be immediately deleted by police forces, Denham said.

That "non-hit data" is currently passed daily to the RCMP, which says it deletes the data 30 minutes later.

Denham said the types of offences the licence plate cameras flag should be altered.

She said sharing the data with the RCMP breaches B.C.'s privacy law, but she doesn't have jurisdiction over the federal Mounties.

Both the RCMP and VicPD have said they consider parts of Denham's report inaccurate.

"Certainly [Saanich police] are finding it a useful tool, but because this thing is hosted by the RCMP, who isn't subject to this oversight, there's a glitch there," Leonard said.

"Until it gets sorted out, we just voluntarily suspended use."

Leonard said Saanich police don't think it would set the right tone to argue with the commissioner's office.

Victoria police continue to use the camera systems, said spokesman Const. Mike Russell.

The department is reviewing and discussing the report and plans to speak to other municipalities, he said.

One of the main problems VicPD has with Denham's recommendation is that the camera system is administered by the RCMP, and VicPD uses it under an agreement, Russell said.

"She's asking us to do something we just can't do right now, which is delete the data," Russell said.

The officer in charge of RCMP E Division Traffic Services, Supt. Denis Boucher, did not return a request for comment.

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