The District of West Vancouver says residents don’t need to fear being caught up in a Big Brother-like surveillance system because of its new automated licence plate recognition technology.
The district announced last week that it was testing ALPR cameras, which quickly scan and log licence plate information to automatically ticket vehicles that break the two-hour time limit for commercial parking spaces.
“At the end of the day, what’s going to get downloaded and saved is going to be the exact same information that we record at the end of the day now,” said Bob Sokol, the district’s director of planning. “We will have licence plate numbers of the people who received parking offences that day, and that will be it.”
All other data will be deleted, Sokol added.
Last week’s announcement drew criticism from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association for potentially violating residents’ privacy rights without a strict set of guidelines in place.
West Vancouver council voted to buy the $50,000-cameras during 2012 budget discussions but never discussed it with the Information and Privacy Commissioner and never set guidelines to govern exactly how the surveillance tool would be used.
“Admittedly, we don’t have a full policy written out. That’s part of the reason why we are not using the licence plate reader for parking enforcement until at least mid-September,” said Sokol. “We are preparing the paperwork for the privacy impact assessment. We are in the process of competing that, and we hope to have that into them by the end of this month.”
Initially, the district said the information collected would be cross-referenced with ICBC’s list of stolen vehicles, and police could access the information with a warrant, but no agreements have been signed for those functions yet, Sokol said.
In the future, the district would like to add stolen vehicles and licence numbers tagged in Amber Alerts to the database.
“Certainly for those limited things, we would like to, because that would be making use of technology that would clearly be beneficial to the community,” he said.
Meanwhile, members of the Ambleside business community are giving a cautious “OK” to using ALPR.
For Tarry Giannakos and Christine Baracos, owners of Café Crema and Baracos & Brand on Marine Drive — and directors with the Ambleside business association — efficient parking enforcement is welcome, but not if technology dissuades shoppers.
Finding a spot immediately in front of the store you want to shop in isn’t always possible, but generally there is no shortage of parking in Ambleside, both agreed.
“I think that people want to be able to pull right up in front of our stores and park, but if they’re willing to go a block on either side of our stores, there’s lots of parking down here,” Baracos said.
The most troubling activity is the habit adopted by some business owners and employees who park on Marine Drive all day and skirt parking enforcement by wiping off chalk marks left by district staff to track how long vehicles have been parked, said Baracos.
That is exactly who the district is after, Sokol said.
As for the privacy issue, Giannakos and Baracos don’t have an alarmist view, but they do acknowledge why some people might.
“I personally don’t care. I’m just wondering if our customer base cares. And if they care, I care,” Giannakos said. “If it leads to any discontent at all, then why would I want that?”
There is also some concern the ALPR will work “too well” and shoppers will be ticketed automatically when they don’t deserve to be, Giannakos added.
With ALPR, bylaw staff can monitor the entire district in two hours. The efficiency has allowed the district to lay off one bylaw enforcement staff member.