The Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Developments in privacy law and writings of a Canadian privacy lawyer, containing information related to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (aka PIPEDA) and other Canadian and international laws.

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The author of this blog, David T.S. Fraser, is a Canadian privacy lawyer who practices with the firm of McInnes Cooper. He is the author of the Physicians' Privacy Manual. He has a national and international practice advising corporations and individuals on matters related to Canadian privacy laws.

For full contact information and a brief bio, please see David's profile.

Please note that I am only able to provide legal advice to clients. I am not able to provide free legal advice. Any unsolicited information sent to David Fraser cannot be considered to be solicitor-client privileged.

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The views expressed herein are solely the author's and should not be attributed to his employer or clients. Any postings on legal issues are provided as a public service, and do not constitute solicitation or provision of legal advice. The author makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained herein or linked to. Nothing herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

This web site is presented for informational purposes only. These materials do not constitute legal advice and do not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and David T.S. Fraser. If you are seeking specific advice related to Canadian privacy law or PIPEDA, contact the author, David T.S. Fraser.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Alberta Commissioner urges Calgary to be diligent about surveillance cameras 

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta is urging that the City of Calgary carry out a privacy impact assessment before allowing the police to install video cameras throughout that city. The Commissioner's release:

Commissioner urges City of Calgary to be diligent about surveillance cameras:

Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner, Frank Work, has written a letter to the Mayor of Calgary urging due diligence if the City plans to install video surveillance cameras in public places.

In his letter, the Commissioner asks the City to thoroughly research the use of surveillance cameras and to develop a full Privacy Impact Assessment before passing a bylaw to allow video surveillance. The Commissioner also asks Calgary Mayor, Dave Bronconnier, to ensure full and open public debate on the proposal and requests that he be able to appear before Calgary City Council to address the issue.

Work says the Privacy Impact Assessment must address a number of issues, including:

  • The scale and scope of the program
  • The objective of the program
  • Will cameras be used to identify litterbugs, jaywalkers and panhandlers or will it be focused on more serious incidents?
  • Will cameras be monitored or will they simply record?
  • Who will be allowed to view tapes?

Work says municipalities are allowed to pass surveillance bylaws under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, but he adds that he has concerns that people embrace video surveillance as being synonymous with safety and security, when that is not the case.

The Commissioner says a full 'PIA' makes sense for the City because it will be legally responsible for the subsequent use, disclosure and security of personal information collected.

The full text of the Commissioner's letter is available on our website,"

Here is the letter:

October 4, 2006

His Worship Mayor David Bronconnier Office of the Mayor The City of Calgary P.O. Box 2100, Station M Calgary AB T2P 2M5

Dear Mayor Bronconnier:

Re: Surveillance Cameras in Calgary

I understand that consideration is being given to place surveillance cameras in public locations in Calgary. Unfortunately, I do not know much more than this.

I am not categorically opposed to surveillance cameras. It wouldn’t matter if I was, since the Act allows for them in certain circumstances. I am concerned that people embrace surveillance as being synonymous with safety and security when this is simply not the case.

I urge the City of Calgary to thoroughly research the use of surveillance cameras and to facilitate an open and informed public debate before acting. With that in mind, I strongly recommend that the City of Calgary prepare a “privacy impact assessment” (PIA) of this program as a part of the process of passing any bylaw. The PIA should be made public and would, I hope, form part of the Council debate on any bylaw. I would like to address Council on this issue during its deliberations as well.

PIAs are not required under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. However, they are often prepared by Government of Alberta public bodies prior to embarking on significant information gathering programs. They are required under the Health Information Act and a template can be found on our website (

The preparation of a PIA and the subsequent informed debate, I would suggest, is critical before embarking upon a program of general public surveillance. If a decision to implement surveillance is made, it should be fully informed and the program itself must be carefully thought out. This is not only for the sake of Calgarians, but also for the sake of Albertans in other cities which may decide to follow Calgary’s lead.

A second reason for preparing a PIA is that under the FOIP Act, the City of Calgary is legally responsible for the subsequent use, disclosure and security of personal information that it collects. A PIA is good due diligence.

By way of example, I would think that the following issues should be addressed in a PIA:

  • What is the scale and scope of the program?
  • What is the object of the program (ie to discourage lawbreakers in that area, to catch lawbreakers, etc)?
  • Will the cameras be used to identify everyone from litterbugs to jaywalkers to panhandlers or will they focus on “more serious” incidents?
  • What evidence is there that this program will succeed with respect to the objective?
  • Will the cameras be actively monitored or will they simply record? If actively monitored, will they have a speaker “voice over” function, allowing the operator to speak to people within camera range?
  • Will the camera images be compared to any digital photographic database to identify people?
  • Who will operate the cameras (City of Calgary employees or will it be outsourced)?
  • If the operation is outsourced, what would the terms and conditions of the contract be?
  • Who will be allowed to view the tapes (ie police, people looking for lost children or wayward spouses, researchers)?
  • How long would the tapes be kept?
  • What is the likelihood that the cameras will “displace” criminal or other activities to adjacent neighbourhoods like the Beltline or Sunnyside where there are no cameras?

I might add that the Edmonton Police Service ran a limited surveillance program on Whyte Avenue. They dismantled the program after 2 years but their protocols and their findings would be relevant to the debate in Calgary.

I will release a copy of this letter publicly on Friday, October 6, 2006.

Thank you for your consideration of these matters.

Yours truly,


Frank Work, Q.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta

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