Every time we get a new advance in technology, there’s an accompanying concern that our privacy rights are being eroded just a little.
So it’s with some trepidation, regardless of the guarantees provided that we’re wrong, that we worry that privacy is once again being sacrificed at the altar of security. In this instance, it’s the installation of automatic licence plate readers, with 20 of them set up in Saskatchewan by the end of June, two of which will be here in Prince Albert.
Automatic licence plate readers work by using infra-red technology to scan licence plates and alert police officers when a plate is linked to a stolen or unregistered vehicle, a suspended driver, a reported impaired driver or an individual wanted by police.
While most licence plates will emit a normal beep, a “flagged” plate will cause a different-sounding beep in order to alert the officer.
Daily Herald reporter Matt Gardner spoke to SGI media relations manager Kelley Brinkworth on Tuesday. Brinkworth made it clear that the data can’t be retained, noting that a slower version of the same process already occurs.
“It’s really no different than … if there’s a police officer that pulls up behind you and manually types in your plate number to check it, because police … do have access to SGI’s database of registered vehicle owner information to do their job, so that’s the information that they’re accessing,” Brinkworth said.
“It’s the same kind of situation. This is just doing it automatically, but that’s cleared right off. Now, if the plate is a possible offender, then that information is saved … Let’s say that’s linked to a person that is a suspended driver, then they would have a record of that.”
But the doubts remain, with a real world example of duplicity not that far from us.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in 2012 that licence plate readers had been deployed in the Twin Cities.
St. Paul has used them since 2008 and at the time had 10. The Cities police forces read 805,000 plates in June that year and had nearly five million recorded that year. A Times Herald reporter filed a freedom of information request on his personal data and received six hits with the time and place recorded.
With the increasing ability of computers to sift through data, it’s not a giant leap to worry that we could all have secret files somewhere with our data in them.
We’re not usually tinfoil hat people around here but the recent NSA revelations of vast piles of data being stored in the U.S. and around the world is a worrisome trend. It would be foolish not to at least entertain the notion that it could occur.
While a familiar retort is that you have nothing to worry about it if you haven’t done anything wrong, it’s a slippery slope we’re on. If good people don’t act in time, everyone could be compromised one day.
Without evidence of any malfeasance at this time, we’ll have to take the police at their word that we don’t all have secret files somewhere.
But let’s all remember that in 2014 they said that those files wouldn’t exist.
Prince Albert Daily Herald