Canada Sees Spread of ANPR Systems
Unfortunately, the proliferation of ANPR/ALPR the common acronyms for the notorious automatic license plate readers, has accelerated throughout many metro areas of our neighbors to the North, the great land of Canada. An article posted on September 1st by the Ottawa Citizen ( link: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/ottawa-police-introduce-automatic-licence-plate-scanners ) describes this disturbing trend and also unfortunate; it's one of the few that highlight the privacy concerns of this technology.
As the spread of license plate reader systems continues at a staggering rate, little is acknowledged by the major media outlets. Many articles and news stories regarding the systems tout the ability to keep "dangerous" motorists off the roads and recover stolen vehicles. Fortunately for the citizens of Ottawa, the Ontario Privacy Commission has regulated the use of the technology and it's incredible data collection and storage capabilities to only allow the storage of "offending" vehicle data (suspended or revoked driving privileges, stolen cars, uninsured motorists, etc.) This data will be kept for 5 years while motorists who do not belong on a "hot list" have their data purged immediately. It does appear however, that the officials in the law enforcement community did not decide to go this route out of their own good will; the Privacy Commission may have had to apply some pressure as the article above reports that police officials had not been as forthcoming in the past.
It is noted that in 2013 the Ottawa police force had twice denied using ANPR technology before finally admitting they had actually outfitted an unmarked cruiser to field test the systems. Apparently they had even submitted captured data to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; for "hot list" vehicle hits along with data collected from law abiding motorists. The CCLA (Canadian Civil Liberties Union) noted that there were still concerns about how data would be handled and more specifically, what steps should be taken to ensure that the police forces are compliant with their promised handling of data.
Here in the States, very few departments that utilize the license plate readers have agreed to the same data collection and storage standards as their counterparts in Ottawa have. In fact many have gone out of their way to avoid information requests by both private parties as well as the ACLU in regard to the data collected, how long it is stored and who it is shared with.
While the technology continues to find it's way into the everyday arsenal of agencies across the US, it's neighbors, as well as dozens of other countries across the globe, the public knowledge of this assimilation is frighteningly limited. As the demand for the systems continues to grow the price of acquiring the systems, both fixed and mobile units continues to decline. Given the fact that the Federal government aids the allocation of LPR systems in the US via grants and manufacturers of the systems have dedicated personnel to assist in the successful application of these grants, the spread of this tool of mass surveillance will be commonplace in the not so distant future.
We want to ask our customers and supporters to help us spread the word in every way possible about this dangerous technology and it's potential for abuse. We face a difficult task as the tech is hyped as one of the best aids to "increase public safety" that has yet to come; not only by the agencies who desire to utilize the systems but the representatives of their jurisdictions who see the potential revenue streams which can be created from it's implementation. When we examine the statistics compiled by the ACLU in their initial assessment of the privacy threat presented by the LPR systems we quickly find that the overall success is single digit percentages or less in comparison to the total data collected. With no little to no oversight countless scenarios exist in which the data could be put to use against the citizenry by unscrupulous politicians, police, and even private companies who are currently the largest collector of data collected.
Until we can convince our legislators that this technology needs some serious oversight, we will continue to work to counter the invasion of privacy forced upon the law abiding citizen who is simply exercising their right to travel unmolested. Driving may be a privileged, however, our right to utilize this privilege without fear of our every movement being cataloged in a massive database should not be marginalized. Please follow this link to view the ACLU report on their findings regarding the use of automatic license plate reader systems to fully understand why we view LPR systems the way we do.