Police scanners

February 6, 2020 - Ron Kruzeniski, Information and Privacy Commissioner

Starting last year, an issue arose regarding media access to police scanners. The transition from analogue radio transmission to digital transmissions created this issue. Under an analogue system, the transmission is on public air waves and anyone with the right receiver can listen in. As police forces upgraded their equipment, digital transmission means that access can be controlled by the police force. Questions arose as to whether personal information was being disclosed in such transmissions and whether authority existed for the disclosures. My conclusion, based on information received, was that certainly personal information could be or might be exchanged and would constitute a disclosure. Thus, police forces began to consider what they should or should not do. Decisions were made not to give the media access. The media thus lost access to an important source of information.

It is clear to me that the media needs certain information from the police to properly report the news and the police needs the assistance of the media to communicate certain messages e.g. lost children, missing persons, information about a crime, etc. The issue then became how information would be provided that would not breach The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LA FOIP).

The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) have come up with a solution. It has developed a secure portal, which can be accessed by the media. It will be kept up-to-date by SPS through automatic feeds from its systems. I commend the SPS for coming up with this solution. I understand the Regina Police Service is working on a somewhat similar system, which will be operational in the spring of 2020. I hope other police forces in the province will take a look and see if a similar solution would work for them.

Details can be found at a StarPhoenix article entitled Saskatoon police launch web-based program for media to replace silenced scanners.

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