hi-bc-120411-elizabeth-denham-4col

B.C. privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham says members of the public have raised concerns about the automated licence plate recognition program. (CBC)

B.C.'s privacy commissioner has launched an investigation into whether police are complying with privacy laws when they use cameras mounted on patrol cars to scan passing vehicle licence plates, and collect the plate numbers in a database.

Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham says the so-called automated licence plate recognition program (ALPR) extracts plate numbers from the photos, and matches them against a list of licence plate numbers associated with people who are of interest to police.

The program instantly notifies police when there is a match in any of several databases, including stolen vehicle information in the Canadian Police Information Centre, expired licences in ICBC's registry, and outstanding warrants in the PRIME-BC police database.

Denham says members of the public have raised concerns about the use of the technology and its implications on people's privacy.

She says the investigation will focus on the use of the program by the Victoria Police Department, but a report expected to be published later this summer will provide guidance to all B.C. law enforcement agencies that use it.

The privacy commissioner will also conduct a second investigation in August into whether public bodies are complying with regulations when they disclose public-interest information, such as environmental harms or risks to health and safety.

That investigation was prompted in part by the Cowichan Valley Regional District withholding information about contaminated groundwater near Cobble Hill. 

With files from the CBC's Lisa Cordasco