For the past several years I’ve had the privilege of working with excellent colleagues, Rob Wipond and Kevin McArthur, in opposing how Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) systems are deployed in BC. It’s been a long slog, and taken a long time, and led to an awful lot of writing, but after a favourable decision by the BC Privacy Commissioner about the technology (short: it’s permissible, in limited circumstances, so long as local police don’t upload innocent license plates snapped by the cameras, and confirm the validity of algorithmically identified guilty plates) it looked like the tides had turned.
And then we learned that the Commissioner’s decision wouldn’t necessarily apply to the RCMP. In response, Vincent Gogolek of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association wrote piece about the limits of the BC Commissioner’s mandate, titled “It Takes Two To Kill Illegal Police Licence Surveillance.” His argument was that stopping the worst surveillance practices linked with ALPR would require ruling by the provincial and federal privacy commissioners. We also learned that some provincial police forces – which fell under the purview of the BC Commissioner – were refusing to comply with the Commissioner’s decision. This latter issue led Wipond to publishing an article titled “So it’s illegal surveillance, so what?”
For roughly the past two years I’ve been working with colleagues to learn how Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems are used in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province. As a result of this research one colleague, Rob Wipond, has published two articles on how local authorities and the RCMP are using ANPR technologies. Last February I disclosed some of our findings at the Reboot privacy and security conference, highlighting potential uses of the technology and many of the access to information challenges that we had experienced with respect to our research. Another, Kevin McArthur has written several pieces about ANPR on his website over the years and is largely responsible for Rob and I getting interested, and involved, in researching the technology and the practices associated with it.
The most recent piece of work to come out of our research is a paper that I, Joseph Savirimuthu, Rob, and Kevin have written. Joseph and I will be presenting it in Florence later this month. The paper, titled “ANPR: Code and Rhetorics of Compliance,” examines BC and UK deployments of ANPR systems to explore the rationales and obfuscations linked to the programs. The paper is presently in a late draft so if you have any comments or feedback then please send it my way. The abstract is below, and you can download the paper from the Social Sciences Research Network.
Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems are gradually entering service in Canada’s western province of British Columbia and are prolifically deployed in the UK. In this paper, we compare and analyze some of the politics and practices underscoring the technology in these jurisdictions. Drawing from existing and emerging research we identify key actors and how authorities marginalize access to the systems’ operation. Such marginalization is accompanied by rhetorics of privacy and security that are used to justify novel mass surveillance practices. Authorities justify the public’s lack of access to ANPR practices and technical characteristics as a key to securing environments and making citizens ‘safe’. After analyzing incongruences between authorities’ conceptions of privacy and security, we articulate means of resisting intrusive surveillance practices by reshaping agendas surrounding ANPR.
Download paper from the Social Sciences Research Network
UPDATE: The paper is now published in the European Journal of Law and Technology