Those highway cameras that the province encourages you to consult for road and weather conditions for long drives are watching you.
Documents obtained by Glacier Media from the provincial government under access to information laws shows police routinely request footage taken by DriveBC’s BC HighwayCams as part of police investigations.
“The webcams are not surveillance webcams, and the resolution is very low,” said a January email from Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure web content strategist Peter Taylor to Kamloops RCMP Const. Wayne Dunn. “The HighwayCams Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) states that the webcams cannot be used for law enforcement but police often consult them in an investigation. I don’t think they would be admissible in a court of law (personal opinion).”
Glacier requested a copy of the PIA. but the ministry said a further access to information request would need to be filed so the document could be examined for release.
Taylor said such images are static, not video; are only for highways, notlights; and that the low resolution makes identification of faces and licence plates not possible.
Images are kept by the ministry for two weeks and are then overwritten in the computer system.
Emails obtained by Glacier show RCMP attempting to obtain images to investigate break-ins and car accidents. In some cases, what was being investigated was redacted. Some locations were left in and others redacted.
Many of the redactions – including image file name formats - were done citing B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act as harmful to law enforcement. Some redactions cited harms to personal privacy.
In some requests, there was confusion as to what jurisdiction operated a camera – the province, a municipality or a transportation authority such as Translink.
In one August 2018 collision investigation, an RCMP officer asked who owned some cameras and “what those cameras might be for.”
However, the files contain email dates and police locations and officers’ names.
The most exhaustive request in documents received was from RCMP Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) member Const. Chase Smith, who sought 23 specific camera locations plus others on Highway 17 and Highway 1.
IHIT at the time had begun work on an investigation of a Surrey shooting believed to be gang-related and a death stemming from a fight in Port Coquitlam.
A Sept. 27 request for camera footage came from Fort St. John RCMP four days after a collision claimed the lives of two children near the Kiskatinaw Bridge on the Alaska Highway between Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.