Who's tracking you?

By Rob Wipond, June 2013

Local surveillance round-up

After discovering that local police are conducting illegal mass surveillance through their automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) program, Focus tried to find out which other local public bodies are conducting video surveillance on the general public. So far, we’ve found nothing too worrying—except for schoolchildren in the western communities.

The City of Victoria is using ALPR cameras to monitor parking and issue tickets. They retain the images of illegally-parked cars for seven years, but their privacy impact assessment indicates that they only retain the data about law-abiding drivers for 12 hours. 

The City has a webcam pointed at the Johnson Street Bridge to document and display bridge construction. The City also has security cameras at its parkades, and at its public service centre and Crystal Pool cash-handling areas, for which the privacy policies are apparently currently being updated and weren’t available for our review.

ICBC has installed 140 cameras through its Intersection Safety Camera program, including locally at Blanshard/Hillside and Highway 1/Tillicum. According to ICBC media rep Adam Grossman, these cameras only fire when a car goes through a red light.

BC Ferries has many surveillance cameras, but does not currently use ALPR. However, when Focus obtained their privacy impact assessment, BC Ferries had censored key information about how long they’re keeping their surveillance footage, and who can view the footage and for what reasons. We’ve lodged a complaint: If police didn’t have a legitimate law enforcement reason to censor such information, what reason can BC Ferries have for hiding it from the public?

BC Transit has taken over three months to provide a copy of the privacy impact assessment for their bus surveillance cameras. They’ve been “testing” some cameras in some buses in the past, but this year have been discussing plans to install video and possibly audio surveillance throughout the fleet. 

The Greater Victoria School District has a very thoughtful, privacy-protective policy, clearly designed to prevent surveillance of our children and to ensure that security cameras are only used for crime prevention in or around schools at night. Their policy explicitly forbids video surveillance being used “during normal school hours except in extraordinary circumstances.” Currently, there’s only one camera on Spectrum Community School’s parking lot.

In our neighbouring western communities, it’s a different story. The Sooke School District (including Sooke, Langford, Colwood and Metchosin) has eight secondary and middle schools—four of them have video surveillance inside the schools, and two more have video surveillance both inside and outside. Even one elementary school has surveillance cameras outdoors. There’s also video surveillance on three district school buses. According to the Sooke School District policies, they’re keeping all the video footage for a minimum of 30 days, parents are allowed to view the footage, and there’s even a clause for the Superintendent to authorize surveillance of private meeting rooms and bathrooms. Yikes. When, how, and why did the western communities public school system become a lock-down surveillance state? More to come on this story.

Rob Wipond