Posted by: Heather Forbes | July 26, 2011

ICBC’s Image Bank and Your Privacy

A few months ago, we posted a story about ICBC’s installation of new intersection cameras throughout BC at a cost of $23 million. We expressed concern that installing surveillance wasn’t the best choice, considering both the economic and civil liberty implications. At the time, ICBC stated that the images captured would only be used to capture and penalize traffic violations and would be subject to the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

According to the Act, ICBC can disclose personal information (including your photograph) to “a public body or a law enforcement agency in Canada to assist in a specific investigation with a view to a law enforcement proceeding, or from which a law enforcement proceeding is likely to result.” This clause may well come into play for people present at Vancouver’s most recent riots. According to the Vancouver Observer, ICBC has offered access to both its image bank of driver’s license photographs and its facial recognition technology for the RCMP to use to identify people involved in the riots and looting that followed last month’s Stanley Cup riot.

BC’s Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham says ICBC must comply with the FIPPA when it uses the technology. She stated, “There is a fine balance to be struck in weighing a citizen’s privacy interests and the use of personal information for law enforcement… This balancing of interests must be undertaken within the confines of existing law.”

ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman says the RCMP has not yet taken up ICBC’s offer of technology and photographs, but if the exchange does come to pass, ICBC will comply with the recommendations of the Privacy Commissioner.

Commissioner Denham points out the importance of this, stating, “This is a very, very tricky area of law, especially when government bodies have new technologies and new caches and extensive databases of personal information.”

When we talk about surveillance and privacy, we often end up also talking about ‘mission creep’, where a technology or practice is introduced in such a way and for such a purpose that seems reasonable, only for its mission to gradually extend its scope to include activities that we may not be comfortable with. While most of us think it’s pretty reasonable for ICBC to store our driver’s license photos, having those images used to document our movements in public space is an escalation that we don’t tend to consider when we’re grinning for the camera to receive our driver’s license.

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