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Cameras aren’t for police surveillance

There is general unease when police or government officials pry deeper into the private affairs of citizens.

Charlottetown city police are seeking easier access to surveillance cameras installed on the Confederation Bridge.

We are constantly monitored and watched – and most times, not even aware of it. When citizens stop caring about this intrusion or welcome surveillance – it's even more disturbing.

The issue of surveillance cameras is back in the news with a request made by the Charlottetown police department to gain quicker access to special cameras that record every vehicle travelling on and off P.E.I. That takes in a large number of Maritimers who cross the span, whether for work or pleasure.

In 2009, a security-obsessed former P.E.I. government provided funds to install licence plate reader cameras on the Confederation Bridge. There were assurance the applications would be for traveller information, emergency response management and vehicle safety.

And now, Charlottetown police want easier access to information from those bridge cameras. In a legislative committee hearing, police admitted they have accessed information from the cameras, but the current system doesn't allow for a quick turnaround on requests. Police are interested in real-time alerts when any suspicious vehicle crosses the bridge.

It would be the tip of the iceberg. Where are the checks and balances for access to these cameras? Every licence plate will be photographed and a program will alert police if there is an issue - presumably with drugs or something more serious. But what happens when other issues pop up, such as unpaid fines, warrants, lapsed inspections, no insurance, bald tires, suspended licence, etc.? Where does it stop?

Police are looking for any advantage to catch criminals. It's their job. But there must be checks and balances to ensure they don't cross the line. It's why we have laws.

In many communities, scores of outdoor cameras are located on poles or buildings, monitoring everyone's movements – who they talk to, what they drink at bars or outdoor cafes and what they are driving. Most businesses have surveillance cameras on their premises – inside and outside. Big brother is indeed everywhere.

Camera supporters argue, if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear. That's not the point. We are entitled to reasonable privacy.

Just ask the Montreal journalist who had his cellphone tracked by police warrants. It's part of a troubling trend emerging across the country. The warrants allowed police to obtain the identities of everyone he spoke to or exchanged text messages with. Police think they did nothing wrong. Really. It's a serious attack on freedom of the press and the protection of sources.

New police powers to track Canadians are basically limitless. There is little oversight and the Quebec reporter is an example of how abuses can happen. It's being blamed on a cultural shift that began with the passing of Bill C-51under the previous Conservative government.

The Liberals pledged to amend parts of the Bill, but have done nothing. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale expressed horror at the Quebec warrants. Fine, then do something about it.

And until that happens, police should keep their eyes off the Confederation Bridge cameras.

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