By on October 20, 2009

Funny; she doesn't LOOK concerned . . . (courtesy priv.gc.ca)

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada expressed concern last week over the growing police use of technology to spy on motorists. In a letter to the Nanaimo Daily News, Assistant Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier emphasized that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had not received the commissioner’s approval for the agency’s use of license plate recognition devices. Known as ANPR in the UK and ALPR in North America, these cameras use a combination of electronic databases, cameras and optical character recognition software to identify each passing vehicle. Over time, the devices create a searchable log containing the exact time and date that each automobile passed a given location.

“Traditionally, traffic surveillance technologies have been used to capture specific infractions such as speeding or running a red light,” Bernier wrote. “With ALPR, the technology captures personal information related to all vehicles within the camera’s field of view — even parked cars — in the absence of any particular suspicion of an individual or vehicle… In other words, the program involves a generalized and ubiquitous form of surveillance that is very different from previous police techniques to detect traffic violations. Generalized surveillance of the Canadian population clearly raises some red flags for privacy rights.”

The technology is already so widespread in England that officials have announced plans to ensure every road in the country is covered by ANPR cameras. The records generated by this network will be stored for at least five years in a central government server in London, allowing police to keep tabs in real time on the movements of criminals and political opponents. In the US, the same networked spy technology is being offered by the two leading photo enforcement vendors, Australia’s Redflex Traffic Systems and American Traffic Solutions.

The privacy ‘red flags’ are not theoretical. Last year, police in Hertfordshire, England dropped a USB drive containing unencrypted logs of motorist movements in the gutter. In 2005, traffic camera vendor Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) abandoned a box of photo radar tickets on a park bench in Edmonton, Canada. In the same year, Edmonton Sun columnist Kerry Diotte personally experienced how such systems could be used against political opponents. According to court testimony, police angered by Diotte’s criticism of photo radar accessed an electronic database in a failed effort to frame Diotte for drunk driving.

Bernier expressed broader concerns over the use of such technology in a March speech about the use of so-called enhanced driver’s licenses.

“Security is a tangible good,” Bernier said. “We can count fences and locks and surveillance cameras, and we can increase their number if we feel threatened or exposed. Privacy, by contrast, cannot be weighed or measured; it can barely be defined, except in other equally ephemeral terms, such as identity, autonomy, liberty and freedom from state control. And so it is always vulnerable. Like any delicate and precious thing, privacy demands our protection.”

[courtesy thenewspaper.com]

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28 Comments on “Canada: Privacy Commissioner Concerned Over License Plate Spying...”


  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    Sounds like some Canadian politicians are all right.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    It might be time to start voting for different people in these countries. Losing elections is the only real thing pols understand.

    Nice looking politician in that picture, I’d vote for her anytime.

    Privacy is only temporary. Once violated it cannot be returned any easier than something can be unlearned. Those that maintain they have nothing to hide haven’t had their privacy violated completely yet.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    “Traditionally, traffic surveillance technologies have been used to capture specific infractions such as speeding or running a red light,” Bernier wrote. “With ALPR, the technology captures personal information related to all vehicles within the camera’s field of view — even parked cars — in the absence of any particular suspicion of an individual or vehicle… In other words, the program involves a generalized and ubiquitous form of surveillance that is very different from previous police techniques to detect traffic violations.”

    Speed camera and redlight cameras also presuppose a suspicion of guilt as they target all passing cars as well, particularly speed cameras. The argument could be made that red light cameras only capture the information of cars that likely ran a red light, but speed cameras record the car’s information at various points to determine an average speed between those points thereby capturing violators and non-violators alike. How is ALPR different?

  • avatar
    Lemmy-powered

    @ above:

    She’s not a politician, but rather a high-ranking appointed bureaucrat. A watchdog, if you will.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    That’s a nice looking high-ranking appointed bureaucrat there. I’d appoint her watchdog in a minute.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    One more time. Things that happen in private are private. Things that happen in the middle of the public way, do NOT happen in private, they are public. The license plates are required to allow convenient identification of the vehicle and its responsible owner. The plate is purchased from the government. It is public and intended to be that way. The record of car ownership created by the purchase of the plate belongs to the government and is by definition a public record.

    Using cameras and other equipment to monitor vehicles in the public streets may be incipient totalitarianism, but it cannot be and infringement of PRIVACY rights because it all happens in PUBLIC.

  • avatar
    Lemmy-powered

    I see your point Mr. Scwartz, but I think the issue is how much the po-po should be able to monitor your movement if you are not under suspicion of anything.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Nice looking politician in that picture, I’d vote for her anytime.

    She’s appointed, not elected. Oddly enough, this tends to work out well: much like an appointed judiciary, you end up with someone loyal, usually, to the job and law, rather than to populism.

    Canadian privacy commissioners and auditors-general tend to bite the hands that feed them, which is nice.

  • avatar
    phillyjim

    Yeah, if she’s an appointed watchdog than she can watch my dog anytime.

    Mr. Schwartz:

    You can still have some expectation of privacy even in a public place. Would you like just anybody to listen in on any conversation you have in public? Would you mind being followed around all day every day? How about if whoever listened or followed posted the info on the internet, just for the fun of it? There are enough examples, including the one linked to in the post, of government officials using any information they can collect against those who disagree with them. Better they don’t have the info to begin with

  • avatar
    bwell

    You could have some fun with this by reproducing the license plates of public officials, mounting them on your car and then randomly violating traffic laws.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    I guess I’ll have to keep my dealer paper plates handy….

  • avatar
    craiggbear

    Just watch the movie “Enemy of the State”, Gene Hackman and Will Smith, to consider the implications of “Things that happen in the middle of the public way, do NOT happen in private, they are public.”

    This is like someone standing across the street (a public place)watching your house, and keeping track of your children (or wife, or?) as they come and go, who they are with and when they are alone. By itself, seemingly harmless information but in the hands of certain people, the most frightening thing imaginable.

    Surveillance without specific cause is an intrusion of my private space, no matter where it happens. No matter how it happens.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    OK, how about we vote for people that will rein in overzealous monitoring of our travels about the land? They are not required to do this, they choose to. It’s purely optional at this point. And law enforcement by camera has already been proven to be a problem when someone counterfeits a tag or obscures their face. Real traffic stops prevent mistakes like this, but when the mistake is financially in the State’s favor we don’t get a change in the policy.

    Once the data is created for all these worthy purposes what happens to it next? If it is not safeguarded, does the government still have the right to gather it? Any checks or balances here? Did We the People vote for LE to monitor us all?

    How about we think long and hard about what is going on before we grant them the power to do more? I’d like to see a review of the idea behind driving being a privilege instead of a right. If cars were around in 1790 things might be a little different today.

  • avatar
    RichardD

    Robert Schwartz :
    Things that happen in the middle of the public way, do NOT happen in private, they are public.

    So I follow you around, record any conversation you have and post it on the internet as long as it happens outside of your home?

    The laws are what we say they are in the US. Cops are using ALPR without any legislation authorizing its use or any public debate on whether it’s the right thing to do or not. It’s nice that someone in America Jr. recognizes that the cops need to follow the law, too.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    phillyjim : Would you like just anybody to listen in on any conversation you have in public? Would you mind being followed around all day every day? How about if whoever listened or followed posted the info on the internet, just for the fun of it?

    There’s a significant percentage of the population who actually pay people to do this to others, through the purchase of tabloids and magazines, or indirectly through television and internet. So I guess there’s a lot of people out there who already consider it acceptable.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    “You can still have some expectation of privacy even in a public place.”

    Yes, under your clothing, for example, are what used to be known as your private parts. Keep your shirt on and your pants pulled up.

    “Would you like just anybody to listen in on any conversation you have in public?”

    No, but that is why I keep the volume down and minimize my cell phone use. Maximum privacy is achieved by the expedient of standing close to the auditor and speaking very softly. But, yap on your cell phone at the top of your lungs, and we will overhear, whether we want to or not.

    “Would you mind being followed around all day every day?”

    By whom? My best friend or my worst enemy?

    “How about if whoever listened or followed posted the info on the internet, just for the fun of it?”

    Bob went to Giant Eagle and bought fish, then he went to Kroger and bought cheese and paper towels … snore.

    “There are enough examples, including the one linked to in the post, of government officials using any information they can collect against those who disagree with them.”

    As I said, “Using cameras and other equipment to monitor vehicles in the public streets may be incipient totalitarianism”.

    I am not arguing for the surveillance state, I am arguing that the word “privacy” has little to do with the real issues, which are the scope and power of the state.

    “Better they don’t have the info to begin with”

    I would add that if we have so many Government employees that they can spend time on these purposes, they should be discharged and our taxes lowered.

    “Surveillance without specific cause is an intrusion of my private space, no matter where it happens. No matter how it happens.”

    Not so. You do not carry a personal space bubble around with you. What you do in public is public. I would advise against committing crimes in public. If the cop sees you, your personal space will not protect you.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    I’m surprised that our hose-head brothers in the Great White North are concerned about privacy at all. There must be a socialist angle to this that I haven’t had time to unearth.

  • avatar
    Boff

    America Jr. Hahahaha! Better than America’s hat.

    I am sure that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is well-enough versed in the Privacy Act to not muddle what constitutes the public and private domains. A person’s movements as incidentally tracked by cameras and collected by the goverment would be considered private, even if the actions take place in public place. What happens to that information (rather than its mere collection) is truly what the Privacy Commissioner’s Office is concerned about.

    The other issue is this clause in the Privacy Act: (1980-81-82-83, c. 111, Sch. II “5”. ) Exception (3) Subsections (1) and (2) [allowing collection] do not apply where compliance therewith might
    (a) result in the collection of inaccurate information;

    If someone other than me is surveilled driving my car, then the government is collecting inaccurate information.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    bwell :
    October 20th, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    You could have some fun with this by reproducing the license plates of public officials, mounting them on your car and then randomly violating traffic laws.

    There was a story here about some high school kids who did this very thing, making copies of their “enemies” license plates, pasting them on their cars, and then speeding in front of a traffic camera near their high school.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @mpresley As a Canadian taxpayer I’m aware of the socialist angle you mention. Ten to one the blonde is somebodie’s wife/girlfriend,wanabe girlfriend,daughter/or inlaw.

    Socialism is all about redistrubution of wealth. We,the taxpayer,foot the bill for the politicaly elite,and the well connected,to shove thier politicaly correct snout/nose into the publicly funded trough.

    It’s quite simple really. They take my money and distribut it amongst themselves.

  • avatar
    Brendon from Canada

    @Robert S: where your argument falls down is that private/public definitions in this case are used within the context of some legal framework – they aren’t the literal definitions of the words themselves. If they were, you are 100% correct! “Reasonable expectation of privacy” was determined in part by the difficulty with which information can be gathered (along with numerous other private property laws, etc, etc); in this case the power to gather information becomes to easy and defeats the spirit of the law…

  • avatar
    phillyjim

    rpn453:
    “There’s a significant percentage of the population who actually pay people to do this to others, through the purchase of tabloids and magazines, or indirectly through television and internet. So I guess there’s a lot of people out there who already consider it acceptable.”

    Yes but celebrities and other public personalities actively seek out recognition and scrutiny. The rest of us don’t.

    Robert Schwartz:
    “I would add that if we have so many Government employees that they can spend time on these purposes, they should be discharged and our taxes lowered.”

    Amen to that. I suspect we agree a lot more than we disagree. My point was that any data government collects, regardless of the original reason they collect it, will invariably be used for other, often more sinister, purposes later. Thus I think there’s a large difference between private citizens watching each other and agents of the government watching us. There’s also a big difference between occasionally being watched by a cop and constantly being watched. Do you drive a little more carefully or get a little nervous when a cop is behind you? With this technology there’s always a cop behind you, right?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    There must be a socialist angle to this that I haven’t had time to unearth.

    Yes, we actually have a government with the balls to tell private industry and local-council curtain twitchers to bugger off and stop tracking our every move.

    Funny how capitalists think: if it’s a corporation that runs roughshod over your rights it’s ok, but god forbid that goverment try to protect us from being exploited by corporate data-miners.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It’s quite simple really. They take my money and distribut it amongst themselves.

    So who pays for your:
    * Roads
    * Water
    * Police force
    * Fire department
    * Safety standards
    * Schools
    ..etc, etc. Oh, wait, those are services you *support*, so they’re not really “socialism”. It’s only socialism when it’s something you don’t like; otherwise, it’s the “will of the silent majority”.

    I don’t happen to support, say, the military, or farm subsidies, or grants to corporations, but I’ve come (bitterly) to recognize that it’s all part of the social contract that exists to keep our civilization, well, civil.

    If you don’t want to pay taxes, fine, there’s all sorts of places where taxation doesn’t happen. Except that it does, in the form of protection money, paying your private security goons, etc, etc. This happy little tax- and government-free utopia doesn’t exist for the same reason that Marx’s happy-pixie-pony-land of a perfectly planned economy can’t: people and societies just don’t work the way absolutist tripeideology wants them to.

  • avatar
    mattstairs

    psarhjinian,

    I see your point. Too many people say “socialism” whenever there is any government program or activity they disagree with.

    “Big government” and “socialism” are not the same thing, and crying wolf by saying socialism makes it meaningless.

    I’m a small government conservative type but I see too often where rigid ideology (don’t let the facts get in the way) leads. I see a lot of reflexive anti-tax people out there who won’t consider any change to the tax code, no matter how reasonable and necessary the services the taxes support are.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @ psarhjinian…Well.. as usual,your correct. I do agree, we have great social programs here,but they come with a huge price tag.

    When one picks up the newspaper and reads where some politician has wasted a billon bucks,one can get a little jadded.

  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    @Robert Schwartz:

    “If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.”
    – Cardinal Richelieu

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Quote:
    Robert Schwartz :
    October 20th, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    One more time. Things that happen in private are private. Things that happen in the middle of the public way, do NOT happen in private, they are public. The license plates are required to allow convenient identification of the vehicle and its responsible owner. The plate is purchased from the government. It is public and intended to be that way. The record of car ownership created by the purchase of the plate belongs to the government and is by definition a public record.

    Using cameras and other equipment to monitor vehicles in the public streets may be incipient totalitarianism, but it cannot be and infringement of PRIVACY rights because it all happens in PUBLIC.

    You would NEVER get my vote!

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