The Edmonton International Airport has installed cameras along Airport Road that will take photos of a vehicle’s licence plate — a move it said is for traffic management and safety but one that has a privacy lawyer expressing concerns.
Myron Keehn, vice president of air service and commercial development, said the cameras are meant to monitor traffic coming in and out of the airport, to help verify ground transportation providers and for security at the airport.
“It allows us at the airport to manage the number of vehicles, understand the number of vehicles coming to and from the airport,” he said.
“It’s for the airport authority to manage its road network and transportation providers that provide services to the general public at the airport.”
Keenh said the cameras would allow the airport to count the vehicles and count the specific licence plate, but he would not elaborate when asked how the cameras would contribute to safety at the airport.
“We can’t disclose and discuss specifically around specific safety measures,” he said.
Keehn argued no personal information is being collected through the cameras.
“The information is not shared publicly. In no way is it actually linked to an individual. The information collected from the camera, which is the licence plate itself, doesn’t link to an individual.”
Global News asked if the airport had run the program by the province’s privacy commissioner; Keehn did not answer the question, instead saying licence plates are on the outside of a vehicle and are part of the public domain.
“They’re actually not a private piece of information,” Keehn said.
But David Fraser, a privacy lawyer with law firm McInnes Cooper in Halifax, N.S., disagrees, saying there are larger privacy concerns.
“A vehicle licence plate is not particularly sensitive information and it is visible to the public,” Fraser said.
“It might not be as sensitive as your medical file by any stretch but it can be information that can tell something about you and about a part of your life that you should have control over.
“When you have this sort of information that’s collected, they could be combined with information from a whole bunch of places.”
People at the airport had mixed responses when told about the new program by Global News.
“I think basically for security reasons, why not?” Lisa Cripps said.
“If you’re not doing something illegal, why would you be concerned about it?”
That sentiment was echoed by Kole Green.
“I can see how some people might [have privacy concerns]. Myself, I don’t really think so. I don’t really have anything to hide,” he said.
“I feel if you don’t have anything to hide, it really shouldn’t matter.”
However, Ryan Lawrence was uncomfortable when he learned of the cameras taking photos of his licence plate.
“If they’re seeing my vehicle coming in and out all the time, is it really their business if I’m flying in and out of the city?” he said.
Transparency and accountability
Fraser, the privacy lawyer, said licence plate information is not needed for traffic counts.
“Certainly in order to count traffic, one does not need licence plate numbers, you just need to count the vehicles coming in and out,” he said.
“I’m always concerned when they say, ‘Don’t worry, it’s public information.’ You always have to ask yourself, what information are we collecting? Is that information actually necessary for a reasonable purpose? Is there a less privacy invasive way we can accomplish this exact same objective?”
In response, Keehn said that, since there are several uses for the cameras, raw vehicle numbers would be of little use for airport security.
Meanwhile, Fraser is bothered the airport would not provide details on how the program would contribute to safety.
“The fact they’re not willing to talk about, which again is not surprising, not willing to talk about what they’re doing in terms of safety and security raises alarms for me,” he said.
“People expect transparency and accountability. The reality is, the organizations that aren’t transparent and clear about what their practices are – people assume the worst.”
In response to follow up questions from Global News, Keehn said licence plate images will be kept for 60 days before they are deleted by the system, however he said records may be kept for longer if there’s a security requirement.
Keehn also said access to the database will be restricted to security and ground transportation personnel.
“The system is secure and will require registered users with passwords to access. Access will not granted without an operational requirement,” Keehn said.
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