An open letter to Jennifer Stoddart

[originally published to freesociety.ca, now part of this site]

I would like to congratulate you on your recent decision to warn Google about the privacy implications of its Street View technology. Your arguments against the technology are sound, but what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

The RCMP is currently engaged in the surveillance and data collection on innocent Canadians yet, despite the efforts of your predecessor, the surveillance has only become more invasive. Canadian CCTV programs are growing ever more sophisticated, uploading data to federal monitoring and data storage facilities.

Public statements from the Government of British Columbia have disclosed this tracking in relation to the RCMP Automatic License Plate Recognition program, stating:

"If the license plate does not show a violation, the image will be automatically purged from the computer system after three months."

This creates a dangerous precedent that it is acceptable to collect data on law abiding citizens. This week, your Ontario counterpart Ann Cavoukian made a statement when referring to the collection of personal information by second-hand stores, for law enforcement purposes. As reported by the Canadian Press, she said:

"You're collecting information on law-abiding citizens, which in a free and democratic society, you only do when you have a suspicion of wrongdoing. Here, we're... treating everyone as a potential criminal"

The federal ALPR and CCTV programs must be held to the same standard. There is simply no valid reason for myself or any other innocent Canadian to have their movements stored in a federal database.

I am also troubled by the fact that this data may be currently being used for data mining purposes. The correlation of information in the federal ALPR database presents a pervasive threat to our organizational rights, freedom of the press in keeping sources confidential and our right to peacefully assemble without repercussion from the state.

Particularly troublesome is that the technology has been designed specifically to scan cars in parking lots. The storage of information including the GPS location and timestamp presents an extremely invasive utilization of the technology, potentially exposing the destination data of many innocent people.

What assurance can we have from your office that the RCMP will not use this ability to scan the parking lots at opposition town-hall meetings and fundraisers?

I would suggest that you request the RCMP to immediately discontinue the storage of non-offending license plates that are scanned by their camera systems; and further direct them not to store information about persons that are not suspected of a crime to bring their activities in line with the stated policy goals of knowledge, consent, and limited collection.

Sincerely,

Kevin McArthur