Canada: BC Privacy Commissioner Calls For Changes To Police Licence Plate Scanning Program

Last Updated: December 12 2012
Article by Summer Lane

Most Read Contributor in Canada, September 2016

When three Victoria residents – including a PhD candidate studying privacy and surveillance issues and a web architecture developer –wondered whether the use of license plate scanning technology by Victoria Police was compliant with privacy legislation, they started to ask the right people the right questions. When the answers that came back were elusive or contradictory they asked the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner (the "Commissioner") to investigate.

The Commissioner's report on the use of Automated Licence Plate Recognition ("ALPR") by the Victoria police was issued on November 15, 2012.


A car-mounted camera capable of scanning thousands of license plates per day is a powerful crime detection tool. BC RCMP and Police in Victoria and Vancouver currently use this technology – known as Automated Licence Plate Recognition ("ALPR") – to scan, record and store licence plate information and cross -reference it with database information, primarily with the information stored in RCMP databases.

The plate numbers are correlated to databases of reasons why the vehicle owner might be of interest to police. Matching plate numbers, or "hits", generate an alert to the officer using the system, while unmatched or "non-hit" data is destroyed at the end of the shift. Police are now considering the possibility of storing all hit data and non-hit data – including time and location of collection – for later use.


ALPR first came to BC in 2006 as a pilot project to help police locate stolen vehicles. Since 2006, the uses of ALPR have changed, and now include locating wanted persons or missing children, identifying prohibited, unlicensed or uninsured drivers and recovering stolen property.

ALPR around the world

Concerns about ALPR have led to restrictions or prohibitions on its use in other jurisdictions. There are several examples: in Ontario, only "hit" data can be stored by police. In Maine and New Hampshire police may only use ALPR in connection with strategic locations or specific investigations. In Germany, the retention of non-hit data was ruled unconstitutional.

Report findings

The Commissioner's first question about the use of ALPR by Victoria Police was whether ALPR is collecting personal information; if so, do the Victoria Police have the authority to use ALPR to collect, use and disclose that personal information? Are the police required to notify individuals that their personal information is being collected? Have they implemented reasonable security arrangements to protect the personal information it collects from unauthorized used or disclosure?

There is conflicting authority from other jurisdictions whether or not licence plate numbers constitute personal information. The Ontario Privacy Commissioner has determined that licence plate numbers are personal information, while – in a slightly different context – the Alberta Court of Appeal recently ruled that a furniture store's collection of license plate numbers in their parking lot did not involve personal information.

Because license plate numbers are cross-referenced to an identifiable individual the Commissioner determined that Police using ALPR in BC are collecting personal information.

The Police may collect, use and disclose personal information without consent if it serves a law enforcement purpose, and the Commissioner found that most – but not all – of the information collected, used and disclosed by police using ALPR meets this test.

Problematic "hit" categories

The ALPR databases currently include "hit" categories that don't fall within the Ministry approved mandate to "reduce auto theft and motor vehicle violations related to prohibited, suspended, unlicensed and uninsured drivers", or to assist with "recovering stolen vehicles and stolen property, and detecting AMBER Alerts issued for missing children".

The problematic "hit" categories include police alerts for license plate numbers of individuals who have court ordered custody of a child; individuals with prior involvement in an "incident" under section 5 of the Firearms Act or who were refused a firearms license; individuals who have attempted suicide or who may at risk of family violence; or someone who is a close relative or known associate of a person of interest to police.

While the police justify these "hit" categories as serving a "contextual" purpose, the Commissioner does not agree, for example, that it serves a valid law enforcement purpose for an officer to know when a single parent is driving by.

Commissioner's recommendations

While acknowledging that overall, the use of ALPR serves valid law enforcement purposes, the Commissioner suggests a line needs to be drawn with the information in ALPR databases.

The databases should be scrubbed of problematic "contextual" information, leaving behind only information relevant to an officer scanning passing vehicles to further the valid law enforcement purposes expressed in the ALRP program mandate such as locating a "wanted person", recovering a stolen car or identifying a prohibited driver.

The Commissioner also recommends that the Minister of Justice clarify the mandate of ALPR to give members of the public a better understanding of the purpose and scope of ALPR.

Finally, the Commissioner takes issue with the suggestion that ALPR scans could be retained for future use:

Collecting personal information for law enforcement purposes does not extend to retaining information on the suspicionless activities of citizens just in case it may be useful in the future.

For more information, the Commissioner's report is here. An article from Focus Magazine written by Rob Wipond (one of the individuals who asked the Commissioner to investigate ALPR) is here.

About BLG

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.