ALPR Take Two

Over the last couple weeks for whatever reason the most accessed articles on this site have been my writings on a technology known as ALPR.  You can read my previous article on the technology here.

That article, I wrote some time ago for a public surveillance website I was running. That site is no longer, it's content rolled up into this site, however, the problem never went away.

So what is the ALPR state of the union? Well. Its coming slowly, the 2006 pilot project is coming to an end and a privacy impact assessment is reportedly underway. I don't have access to this assessment, and right now BC doesn't have a privacy commissioner -- so we're pretty much out of luck in getting accurate information about the project.  What I do have is some new marketing materials from Motorola, a few articles on the planned expansion [Globe and Mail, Nanaimo News Bulletin], so some data is getting out.

You can review these sources yourself but there's some disagreement in what used to be the case and what may now be the case.

In Nov 2008: [source]

"The system stores the images and the exact global coordinates of the location of the hit. All of the data collected by the ALPR system are uploaded to a secure server. The hits are stored for two years in accordance with the Privacy Act, and the nonhits are kept for 90 days. Following the respective time periods, the data are purged automatically."

In 2010: [source]

"The system automatically takes two pictures of every license plate that it spots. If the computer doesn’t find a match to plates in police or ICBC databases, the photos are immediately deleted"

So is the data being kept for 90 days as before, or deleted. The 2010 quote refers to pictures, but what of the GPS data, and the OCR version of the plate [not a picture, but the same thing for pretty much all intents]. Has the program changed? Are its goals different?

In 2008, they seemed to have a plan to put ALPR on the 'limited number of roadways entering and exiting the province' as to intercept vehicles. Is this now being put in place? What did the privacy commissioner have to say about the impact of being able to see when anyone enters or leaves the province -- and is that data being stored for 90 days?

[ source ]

"In B.C., where there are a limited number of roadways entering and exiting the province, strategically located ALPR units could help police intercept people moving stolen vehicles or drugs, says Warren Nelson, ALPR project co-ordinator with Traffic Services."

The Motorola marketing materials make reference to their BOSS software [ source ] being able to track movements.

"Ability to map all locations related to a single license plate to track movements"

So, I'm still waiting for one of the many government administrators who read this site to send me some information to set the record straight. 90 days or immediately deleted. Location tracking of innocent people or only programmed hits. Warrant required for tracking, or at police discretion? The state of the privacy impact assessment?

Lots of questions to be answered, but thats the latest I've got on the ALPR front. Later this year, I'll be putting together another public interest project, to try and explain the ALPR technology in a more consumable way. Until then, there's lots of info available online, so get informed and speak up about the invasiveness of this technology. The precidents set for ALPR will almost certainly be applied to upcoming CCTV and Facial Recognition projects in public space -- so it's important that we find the right balance between privacy and policing powers as this technology is deployed.