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.
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.
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, November 15, 2009
The Sunday Chronicle Herald has two articles on the increasing use of video surveillance by police and private organizations in Halifax. They are interesting reading, but what I find most interesting is that this is the first time that I've seen any dicussion of how the police manage the feeds and access to recordings. Check them out:
The cameras in place now are not monitored all day long, although they are recording, Supt. Moore said. The images are automatically deleted if there’s no request to see them within 14 days.
The department used guidelines from the province’s Freedom of Information office as well as the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner to develop its guidelines for using the images, he said.
All viewing requests are made to him and only he and his technical staff have access to the recordings.
"They’re very much locked down and once they’re collected, there’s a formalized process for someone looking to go in and find these images," he said.
Supt. Moore said police haven’t used video from those downtown cameras to solve "big" crimes – yet.
"We are still optimistic that it will, but to date it has not been pivotal," he said.
Any discussion of the policies regulating the use of video surveillance is a good thing, and better late than never.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Halifax Police plan to augment their network of surveillance cameras with hidden cameras in public places. Law abiding citizens have nothing to fear, according to the Mayor. Besides, the Mayor says, people are used to being surveilled on private property. What he doesn't seem to get is that private property is "private" property that you enter on the terms set out by the property owner. Public places do not have those stipuations. Or at least they shouldn't.
From the Halifax Chronicle Herald:
Police plan more camera surveillance - Nova Scotia News - TheChronicleHerald.ca
Halifax police intend to step up camera surveillance in public places, the city’s police chief said Tuesday.
Chief Frank Beazley said Halifax Regional Police officers will be using portable digital equipment in the near future to record images at "hot spots" in the municipality and public gatherings like rock concerts.
He told a city hall budget meeting the new gear won’t need to be installed — the police department already has fixed cameras at several locations — because police personnel will simply arrive at a potential trouble spot with cameras and leave with the pictures they’ve collected.
Mayor Peter Kelly supports more secret camera use at different sites. He said cameras tracking public goings-on are already a fact of life here and in other cities.
Asked if extra police snooping is an invasion of privacy, Mr. Kelly said law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear.
"For those who cause concern for others, you’ll have things to worry about," the mayor said, adding, additional surreptitious camera work will hopefully lead to crime prevention and the arrests of lawbreakers.
Mr. Kelly said people are routinely photographed on private property, such as banks, stores, parking lots and elsewhere, and the police plan to beef up surveillance at common areas used by many people makes sense.
Chief Beazley acknowledged the enhanced camera gear will be used at various locations throughout the city.
"If we have a hot spot — there’s crime going on in certain areas — we’re going to be able to take these mobile cameras and surreptitiously (use) them" without the knowledge of those being photographed, he told regional council’s committee of the whole.
Metro has seen a month of violent crime, including three murders. The most recent shootings in the city occurred Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Nobody was killed in either attack.
Saturday’s shooting took place at a house in a residential neighbourhood in Fall River, prompting RCMP to say police are concerned an innocent bystander could get hurt, or worse.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Friday, January 02, 2009
Five years ago, on January 2, 2004, a new age of privacy was creeping across Canada and this blog was born. The day before, at the stroke of midnight, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (Canada) had come fully into force. The Alberta and British Columbia Personal Information Protection Acts also became effective on the first day of 2004.
Since then, we have seen dramatic changes in privacy throughout the world: Identity theft is on the rise; there have been literally thousands of data breaches exposing the personal information of millions of people; governments are looking for easier access to personal information; video surveillance is more widespread; more personal information is generated digitally and aggregated in private hands.
And in the past year specifically, things have remained interesting on the privacy front. We've seen debate over changes to PIPEDA without anything definitive coming from the mandatory five year review. We've also seen arguments put forward to reform the public sector Privacy Act. Focus has also been drawn to the increasing practice of examining laptops at US border crossings. Litigation between Viacom and Google has raised awareness of log information that's often retained by internet companies. And Google has also been sued by a couple claiming their privacy has been violated by presenting pictures of their house in Google Street View. But in the last year, the one big privacy story that was supposed to have the largest impact on Canadians was the implementation of the National Do Not Call List. Whether it has, in fact, had an impact is the subject of debate.
I'd like to thank the many thousands of readers of the blog for visiting this site and thanks to those who have contacted me with comments, compliments, suggestions and links to interesting news. It's been a pleasure to write and I plan to keep it going as long as there's interesting privacy news to report.
Birthday cake graphic used under a creative commons license from K. Pierce.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
The good news: Toronto police are removing the CCTV cameras that have kept an eye on people at Queen Street West and Bathurst.
The bad news: Apparenly they're just being moved. Where to? I do not know.
See: Torontoist: Smile! You're Not on the Police Camera, via the eagle-eyed, ever-vigilant, but never intrusive Rob Hyndman.
Monday, October 20, 2008
This past Saturday I found myself with an hour to kill downtown. I had my camera with me and my GPS-equipped blackberry, so I decided to do a quick inventory of surveillance cameras. I only took photos of cameras that are in public spaces or were pointed at public spaces.
You can check out the Flickr set or the map.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is seeking comments on a draft guidance document on covert surveillance. If you have something to say, you have until November 14, 2008:
Consultation on Covert Video Surveillance Draft Guidance Document (October 2008)
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has prepared a draft guidance document that sets out good practice rules for private sector organizations that are either contemplating or using covert video surveillance.
Through our experience in investigating complaints about covert video surveillance under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), we have identified a need to educate organizations on the obligation to ensure that covert video surveillance is conducted in the most privacy sensitive way possible. Although the use of covert video surveillance may be appropriate in some circumstances, we view the technology as being inherently intrusive.
We welcome feedback on the draft guidance below. In particular, we seek the comments of those directly affected by covert video surveillance, including unions representing employees of federally regulated organizations as well as consumer associations.
Thank you for your time and attention and we look forward to your comments.
Elizabeth Denham, Assistant Privacy Commissioner
Friday, October 10, 2008
The ridiculous degree of surveillance in the UK, supported by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, is finally leading to a significant backlash as surveillance powers are being used to catch people who don't scoop their poop. Thanks to Rob Hyndman for the link.
Orwellian U.K. Angers People With Tree Cameras, Snooping Kids
By Caroline Alexander and Howard Mustoe
Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Hidden in foliage next to a path in the southeast England seaside town of Hastings are digital cameras. Their target: litterbugs and dog walkers.
The electronic eyes feed images to a monitoring unit, where they're scanned and stored as evidence to prosecute people who discard garbage or fail to clean up after pets, a spokeswoman for the town council said.
``It's becoming a bit Big Brother-like,'' said Sandra Roberts, 50, a Hastings kiosk manager, invoking George Orwell's 1949 book ``Nineteen Eighty-Four,'' about a Britain where authorities pry into all aspects of citizens' lives.
Local authorities are adopting phone-record logging, e-mail taps and camera surveillance to police such offenses as welfare fraud, unlawful dumping of waste and sick-day fakery. Telecommunications companies are about to join the list of crime monitors. Already, 4.5 million closed-circuit cameras watch public places across Britain, or about 1 camera for every 15 people, the highest ratio in the world.
``There's too much of it now, all this spying,'' said Ivor Quittention, 80, a retired owner of three hardware stores who lives in Hastings. The town's spokeswoman, who declined to be identified, said spying is the most effective way of dealing with something residents complain about most.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, dubbed ``the snoopers charter'' by London-based civil-rights group Liberty, was passed by the ruling Labour Party in 2000 to legislate methods of surveillance and information gathering. The purpose of the law, known also as Ripa, was to help prevent crime, including terrorism, according to the Home Office.
`Too Much Power'
Initially, only security and intelligence services could invoke the Act's provisions. In 2003, Parliament extended powers to the 474 local councils in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as to 318 other state bodies, including 11 Royal Parks, the Post Office and Chief Inspector of Schools.
Since then, local authorities have been expanding their use of the provisions to dozens of lesser offenses.
The law has loopholes and councils like Hastings aren't doing anything wrong when they invoke it for minor crimes, according to Gus Hosein, a professor from the London School of Economics specializing in technology and privacy.
``Ripa just gives too much power to any Tom, Dick or Harry related to government,'' he said.
The latest proposed expansion of the Act requires telecommunications providers to store the text of all e-mails and details of all phone calls transmitted over their lines.
The government is seeking the views of the public on the proposal until Oct. 31. The bill will then go to Parliament for consideration.
Of the 163 U.K. councils that replied to calls and Freedom of Information requests from Bloomberg, 95 percent said they use Ripa. Nine said they don't, including Barnet, Basingstoke and Deane, Broadland, Halton, Harrogate, Shepway, West Devon, Slough and the Shetlands, a group of islands off Scotland where sheep outnumber people. Three declined to provide details without payment of an administrative fee.
East Hampshire, in south England, applied the law to catch vandals defacing tombstones. Derby, in northern England, invoked it to send children with recording gear into shops to see if they'd unlawfully be sold cigarettes and alcohol.
``It's unreal,'' said Dean Price, 24, a graphic designer in London. ``We've been sleep-walking into this. Everyone talks about Orwell and 1984 but no one ever does anything about it.''
A spokesman for the Home Office, which oversees Ripa, said the extension is vital to intelligence gathering and will help investigators identify suspects, track them and examine their contacts. He declined to be identified, in line with policy.
The Association of Local Government, which represents councils, said through a statement by outgoing Chairman Simon Milton that the ``crime-busting powers'' are an essential tool in gathering evidence needed to stop criminal activity.
At the same time, Milton said he wrote to all councils in June asking them not to invoke the law for petty offenses.
``It's ironic that a nation that was once a bastion of privacy, one in which `an Englishman's home is his castle' and that did away with National ID Cards in 1952, is now one of the most surveilled in the world,'' said Toby Stevens, founder of London's Enterprise Privacy Group.
The opposition Conservative Party is against Ripa in its current form and will amend it if it wins the next election, due by 2010, home affairs spokesman Dominic Grieve said.
Mark Jewell, a councilman for the U.K.'s third party, the Liberal Democrats, said more checks and balances are needed to ensure Ripa isn't abused. ``At the moment, you don't need to have done anything wrong to get snooped on,'' he said. No other European Union government has similar regulations.
Among councils which responded to Bloomberg's questions, those in northern England, Wales and Scotland used the law more than those in the south. Durham, in northeast England, was the biggest user, invoking the provisions 144 times in the past year, as authorities cracked down on offenses including fraud.
In April, council workers spent two weeks tailing a couple in Poole, southeast England, they wrongly suspected were planning to send their daughter to a school outside their designated area. Tim Joyce and Jenny Paton called the intrusion into their lives ``hugely disproportionate.''
In August, Paul Griffiths was taken to court and fined 1,000 pounds for allowing his dog to foul grass outside his home in Bristol. Griffiths said he's innocent and his pet had only been urinating when she was spotted on camera.
Brian Clements, a 79-year-old retired teacher from Clacton- on-Sea, south England, said the measures are ``like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut.''
``Wouldn't the Gestapo have loved all those little cameras,'' he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Caroline Alexander in London at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated: October 9, 2008 19:01 EDT
Monday, September 29, 2008
The Open Rights Group in the UK is planning to crowdsource a photographic survey of the United Kingdom's surveillane aparatus on October 11. Participants are encouraged to:
- Spot something that embodies the UK’s wholesale transformation into the surveillance society/database state. Subjects might include your local CCTV camera(s), or fingerprinting equipment in your child’s school library
- Snap it
- Upload it to Flickr and tag it “FNFBigPicture” - please use an Attribution Creative Commons license*
Check out: The Open Rights Group : Blog Archive » Capturing the database state: community photocall. I'll post a selection of the photos on the blog. (Via the ever-vigilant Boing Boing.)
Sunday, September 28, 2008
A system designed to track motorists in the UK is being expanded to collect fifty million automobile movement records for five years, instead of the already intrusive two years originally announced. Alread pervasive CCTV cameras are being upgraded to capture license plates, adding to what is being said to be the largest oracle database in Europe.
Thanks to SpyBlog.org.uk for the link.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Sorry about the headline. I thought I could do beter than the one written by Stuff.co.nz.
I have reported on toilet cams on this site in the past, but all of those I've heard about installed by businesses have ended up to be fakes. That is until this report from New Zealand where a drunk student was roughed up by bouncers who were covertly watching him rip down a poster above the urinal.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
As part of its contributions program (Contributions Program 2008-2009 - Backgrounder - Privacy Commissioner of Canada), the Ofice of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is funding a project to look into surveillence in Canada:
Organization: Queen’s University —The Surveillance Project, Department of Sociology
Funding amount: $50,000
Project title: Camera Surveillance in Canada: Current Trends
Project description: There is a surprising lack of Canadian research to date on the development of camera surveillance, and the proliferation of surveillance cameras in Canada is occurring without enough oversight or public debate. This project will outline Canadian trends in camera surveillance in public and private spaces by analyzing documentary sources and through interviews with key stakeholders. As part of the project, a final research report will be presented at the International Conference of Data Protection Commissioners in Strasbourg, France (Sept. 2008).
Something like this is sorely needed as police forces and others push for more surveillance of public places, while research in other countries suggest that it just moves crime from one area to another.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Sometimes CCTV can prove that someone is innocent. And that the cops framed them.
wcbstv.com - Undercover NYPD Officers Frame 4 On Drug Charges
....The undercover NYPD officers are seen on video dancing in the street, then attempting to frame four innocent men.
"I asked police officer why are you arresting me," said Maximo Colon. "Never did I get an answer."
The investigators swore under oath they bought drugs from the four men. Jose and Maximo colon say that didn't happen.
"The cops are supposed to help us," said a shaken Jose Colon.
Defense lawyers say the surveillance cameras proved their clients were framed.
"It was nauseating," said defense lawyer Rochelle Berliner.
Two hours of video showed no contact at all between the four men arrested and undercover officers - proof that lead prosecutors to drop charges against the four men, and even declare in court the men did not commit the crime....
Because actions speak louder than words, one can easily assume that the British populace is completely passive and accepting of the explosion of CCTV surveillance throughout the green and pleasant lands of England. There is some dissent. Witness: Marina Hyde who has an interesting opinion piece in The Guardian.
Marina Hyde: This surveillance onslaught is draconian and creepy Comment is free The Guardian
Closed-circuit TV cameras are the crime-fighting tool so fiendishly sophisticated that they can be foiled by the wearing of a hood. Yet having stuck 4.2 million of the things around this country, with nary a consultation on the matter - nor any significant impact on crime statistics - efforts to pimp them to 2.0 status continue
This week it emerged that scientists at Portsmouth University are developing "listening" cameras. Artificial intelligence software will be able to recognise sounds such as breaking glass, so that, when such a noise is detected, they can rotate in its direction and capture the act of vandalism/terrorism/God that resulted in a milk bottle falling off your doorstep. I paraphrase slightly, but given that the most recent Home Office report on the matter found that better street lighting is seven times more effective at cutting crime than CCTV, the truly suspicious behaviour is our deepening obsession with surveillance.
The past few years have thrown up dozens of instances which made one wince to be a citizen of this septic isle, but a personal low came with the discovery that 500,000 bins had been fitted with electronic tracking devices. Transponders in bins ... Could any morning news item be more designed to force one back against the pillows, too embarrassed about one's country to start the day? Yes, as it turned out. A couple of months ago it was discovered that Poole borough council, in Dorset, had used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - designed to track serious criminals and terrorists - to determine whether a school applicant and her parents lived where they said they did. They did, and were appalled to discover they had been spied on for three weeks, the subject of surveillance notes such as "female and three children enter target vehicle and drive off". Target vehicle, if you please! The thought of some deep-cover council drone jotting this stuff down as though it were an elite Delta Force operation is not as funny as it is horrifying.
Just who are these people, these swelling legions of unelected, ill-qualified monitors who wield such extraordinary power in our surveillance society? Clarification in one case came last year, when the civilian in charge of a Worcester police station's surveillance team was suspended after detectives found, among one day's footage, a 20-minute sequence of close-ups of a woman's cleavage and backside as she walked oblivious through the streets. Whether the woman ever discovered she was the star of a kind of pervert Truman Show is not recorded. But the offending monitor escaped with a warning and was - unbelievably - back in post within weeks.
In some city centres, such as Middlesbrough, speakers have been put on the cameras, so that those monitoring can interact with potential miscreants. Let's hope these remote bossy boots imagine they're involved in some high-level negotiation, in which they talk down a teenager from his decision to drop a hamburger wrapper on the pavement.
The former home secretary John Reid, on whose draconian watch the Middlesbrough scheme was approved, even suggested at its launch that schoolchildren should enter a competition to become the voice of the cameras - once again laying bare the government's desire to co-opt its citizens into the surveillance process at all levels. We are, of course, coming up to the time of year when we are ordered to shop our neighbours for acts of hosepipe, while the Shoreditch Trust recently trialled a scheme encouraging residents to watch live CCTV feeds on a special local channel, the better to assist in policing.
For all this creepy "outreach", though, the only hands-down beneficiaries of our CCTV obsession (apart from the revenue gatherers) have been broadcasters. For no good reason, all manner of TV networks have been furnished with hours of footage to pad out their witless police chase documentaries, or offensively cheap "street crime UK" shows. Britain's CCTV network: proudly supporting the Bravo channel.
The worst thing is the blithe insistence that this is all necessary and normal. We are watched more closely, by more cameras, with each passing day. But so faultlessly designed is our society that we have never come close to having a say on it.
There's a great bit in Woody Allen's movie Deconstructing Harry when Robin Williams's character goes out of focus, appearing as a sort of fuzzy version of himself, which sounds increasingly like the sort of sickness that should be courted by any attractive woman keen to walk through Worcester. That said, she could always don a hood. Yet there does seem a vaguely depressing irony in governments insisting that constant surveillance is essential to prevent our being overrun by repressive regimes who'd make us all cover our heads and the like. It's these initiatives that drive even the most pliant members of society to dream of taking just that precaution themselves, if only for a bit of privacy.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Naomi Klein has an interesting piece in the most recent Rolling Stone on the emerging high-technology surveillance state being built in China, with help from some of largest US defence contractors:
China's All-Seeing Eye : Rolling Stone
... Now, as China prepares to showcase its economic advances during the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, Shenzhen is once again serving as a laboratory, a testing ground for the next phase of this vast social experiment. Over the past two years, some 200,000 surveillance cameras have been installed throughout the city. Many are in public spaces, disguised as lampposts. The closed-circuit TV cameras will soon be connected to a single, nationwide network, an all-seeing system that will be capable of tracking and identifying anyone who comes within its range — a project driven in part by U.S. technology and investment. Over the next three years, Chinese security executives predict they will install as many as 2 million CCTVs in Shenzhen, which would make it the most watched city in the world. (Security-crazy London boasts only half a million surveillance cameras.)
The security cameras are just one part of a much broader high-tech surveillance and censorship program known in China as "Golden Shield." The end goal is to use the latest people-tracking technology — thoughtfully supplied by American giants like IBM, Honeywell and General Electric — to create an airtight consumer cocoon: a place where Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cellphones, McDonald's Happy Meals, Tsingtao beer and UPS delivery (to name just a few of the official sponsors of the Beijing Olympics) can be enjoyed under the unblinking eye of the state, without the threat of democracy breaking out. With political unrest on the rise across China, the government hopes to use the surveillance shield to identify and counteract dissent before it explodes into a mass movement like the one that grabbed the world's attention at Tiananmen Square.
Remember how we've always been told that free markets and free people go hand in hand? That was a lie. It turns out that the most efficient delivery system for capitalism is actually a communist-style police state, fortressed with American "homeland security" technologies, pumped up with "war on terror" rhetoric. And the global corporations currently earning superprofits from this social experiment are unlikely to be content if the lucrative new market remains confined to cities such as Shenzhen. Like everything else assembled in China with American parts, Police State 2.0 is ready for export to a neighborhood near you....
Friday, May 09, 2008
This is too funny.
Apparently Manchester band "The Get Out Clause" recorded a music video by performing in the vicinity of CCTV cameras and then requesting the footage under the UK Data Protection Act.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Campaign to lick lollipop rage UK news guardian.co.uk
For generations, lollipop men and women have shepherded schoolchildren safely across roads armed only with their trusty signs.
But they are about to undergo a Robocop-style makeover: their signs are to be equipped with cameras in an effort to combat "lollipop rage" by aggressive drivers.
The new signs, which cost £890 each, will allow lollipop men and women - officially known as school crossing patrol officers - to record dangerous driving and capture car number plates, say council leaders.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I reported last month that the Information and Privacy Commissioner has issued a report on the proposal to dramatically increase video surveillance on public transit in Toronto. (Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Ontario Commissioner releases detailed report on TTC surveillance cameras)
InterGovWorld.com has an extensive article on the Commissioner's suggestion that reversible faceblurring technology may make the system more palatable. I spoke with the author, Rosie Lombardi, at length on the topic who has done a good job of summing up my take on the topic:
More privacy-boosting technology begets more video surveillance
... A point that's often overlooked is that privacy legislation is ultimately about feelings, says David TS Fraser, a privacy lawyer at Halifax-based law firm McInnes Cooper. "Although the legislation is written in a way that talks about personally identifiable information and identity theft, it's ultimately designed to protect people's sensibilities about unwanted intrusions," he says.
PET technology may not be enough to address those sensibilities unless the rules governing the use of surveillance are stated. "While the technology may do a good job of limiting the actual intrusions, I'm not sure it does much to address people's feelings about being watched. Unless the policies and procedures around surveillance are clearly communicated, it won't diminish that visceral feeling of unease about being spied upon."
Fear of the unknown is at the core. "If you see a cop at a corner, you can tell from his uniform who he is, what he's looking at, and if you've aroused his suspicions," he says. "But a camera is completely faceless. You don't know who's watching and how the information captured is used - will it wind up on late-night television?"
He notes a significant number of videos in these shows displaying people caught in embarrassing situations come out of Britain, where an extensive network of cameras in public places is rousing a public backlash. Cavoukian noted in her report that U.K. camera operators have caught entertaining themselves by zooming in on attractive women. "If you're going to outsource surveillance to a bunch of badly-paid guys locked in dark rooms, they're going to see more bums than bombs," agrees Fraser.
He concedes that automating the enforcement of policies and procedures around surveillance with PET technology rather than relying on fallible human operators to refrain from misusing the information offers some comfort. But he warns this may have the unintended effect of increasing video surveillance. "Unfortunately, this stuff makes it more acceptable to put video cameras all over the place, and by making it better and safer with less intrusive technology, it may ironically lead to more surveillance."
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
The Inquirer is reporting that UK authorities have signed a secret pact that would allow real-time access to video surveillance feeds to foreign intelligence services. The scheme is said by critics to be a violation of UK data protection laws. See: Secret pact allows the US to spy on UK motorists - The INQUIRER.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Greater details in this Flickr set.
Monday, March 31, 2008
There have been some interesting releases from the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta's office:
Adjudicator rules personal information released in contravention of Personal Information Protection ActAn Adjudicator with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has ruled that the Alberta Teachers’ Association contravened the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), when it published an article containing the personal information of former members.
The Complainants filed the complaint when the ATA published their names in a newsletter stating that they no longer were required to adhere to the ATA’s Code of Professional Conduct.
The ATA argued while it had published personal information, it had done so for “journalistic purposes” and that PIPA did not apply.
The Adjudicator determined that PIPA did apply and that the information was disclosed contrary to sections 7 and 19 of PIPA.
Adjudicator finds Alberta Energy and Utilities Board did not disclose personal information in contravention of the FOIP Act
Information and Privacy Commissioner, Frank Work, has ruled that the parents of a student had no legal standing in a complaint over the seizure of their son’s cell phone. The Commissioner says he was not presented with any evidence under section 84 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) that the parents were authorized to act on behalf of their son, nor is there any evidence that the son is even aware of a complaint being made on his behalf.The parents complained to the Commissioner their son’s cell phone had been seized by school administrators who had accessed photographs contained on the phone.
During an inquiry into the matter, the Commissioner found the evidence did not establish that the parents had standing to make a complaint. The Commissioner also found there was little evidence that the son’s personal information had been collected or used by the school.
Commissioner releases investigation report on DeVry Institute of Technology, related to discovery of identity theft.
Commissioner releases investigation report related to discovery of identity theft
New guidelines set out how companies should evaluate the use of video surveillance that respects privacy rights and complies with the law.
Adjudicator upholds decision not to release Crown Prosecutor records
Adjudicator rules company tried to find applicant's personal information
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I was interviewed some time ago for a Globe & Mail article on workplace surveillance, which appeared yesterday. The piece discusses keystroke loggers, access cards and video surveillance. See: globeandmail.com: Smile, Big Brother's watching.
After the recent spate of toilet cam stories (Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Montreal mall fake toilet-cam raising concerns, Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Montreal Second Cup owner forced to take down bathroom surveillance camera), I was at first shocked, puzzled and then amused by the sticker that was posted on Boing Boing. It had been spotted in a bathroom in a San Francisco coffee shop. It turns out it was part of a prank created by Sean Savage at Cheesebikini, though commentators at Boing Boing say they were originally part of a set of stickers produced by Maxim Magazine. In the interests of science, I've discovered that there are others who put stickers up in bathrooms suggesting you are being watched, including a Flickr user who puts labels of "THIS IS A CAMERA" on bathroom fittings. For more info and a handy PDF to make your own labels, see: cheesebikini? » Blog Archive » Bathroom Prank.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
The Privacy Commissioners of Canada, British Columbia and Alberta today have released Guidelines for Overt Video Surveillance in the Private Sector to help businesses consider privacy matters when deciding whether to and how to implement overt video surveillance. (I wonder whether they'll also produce guidelines on covert surveillance?)
From the media release:
Privacy Commissioners Release New Video Surveillance Guidelines
Privacy Commissioners Release New Video Surveillance Guidelines
OTTAWA, March 6, 2008 — Private-sector organizations considering video surveillance systems must take specific steps to minimize the impact on people’s privacy, say video surveillance guidelines released today.
The new guidelines set out how companies should evaluate the use of video surveillance and ensure any surveillance they undertake is conducted in a way that respects privacy rights and complies with the law.
These guidelines have been endorsed by Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Frank Work, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, and David Loukidelis, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the use of surveillance cameras by private-sector organizations. Many of our day-to-day activities are now captured by these cameras,” says Commissioner Stoddart.
“There are some legitimate reasons to conduct video surveillance, but privacy laws in Canada impose restrictions and obligations when, where and how businesses can conduct this kind of surveillance,” says Commissioner Loukidelis.
“These guidelines make it clear that businesses must carefully evaluate why they are installing video surveillance equipment, and what they will do with the information that is collected,” says Commissioner Work.
The Commissioners say it is disturbing to hear stories about video surveillance operators deliberately pointing cameras to ogle women, as well as surveillance images of people caught in unflattering situations finding their way onto video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo.
The new guidelines are aimed at businesses subject to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA. They are also targeted at businesses subject to the provincial Personal Information Protection Acts in Alberta and British Columbia.
The overarching principle for video surveillance – which stems from the key legal test under the federal and provincial laws – is that it should be used only for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances.
The guidelines state that, in order to limit the impact on privacy, cameras should be positioned to avoid capturing the images of people not being targeted (e.g., someone walking outside a store). As well, cameras should not be used in areas where people have a heightened expectation of privacy, such as washrooms, and through building windows.
The guidelines also say:
- People should be notified about the use of cameras before they enter the premises.
- Individuals whose images are captured on videotape should, upon request, be given access to this recorded personal information.
- Organizations must ensure that video surveillance equipment and videotapes are secured and used for authorized purposes only.
- Individuals who operate video surveillance systems should understand the privacy issues related to surveillance and their obligations under the law.
- Video surveillance recordings should be retained only as long as necessary and destroyed securely.
The complete guidelines for private-sector organizations are available at www.privcom.gc.ca, www.oipc.ab.ca and www.oipc.bc.ca. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia have previously published guidelines for the use of video surveillance in public places by police and law enforcement authorities.
All three privacy commissioners are statutorily mandated to oversee compliance with the Acts and are advocates and guardians of privacy and the protection of personal information rights of Canadians.
Monday, March 03, 2008
The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has released an extensive report on the use of video surveillance by the Toronto Transit Commission. The report can be found here: Privacy and Video Surveillance in Mass Transit Systems: A Special Investigation Report - Privacy Investigation Report MC07-68.
From the media release:
TTC’s surveillance cameras comply with privacy Act, but additional steps needed to enhance privacy protection, says Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian
TORONTO – Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian ruled today that the Toronto Transit System’s expansion of its video surveillance system, for the purposes of public safety and security, is in compliance with Ontario’s Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act – but she is calling on the TTC to undertake a number of specific steps to enhance privacy protection.
The Commissioner’s office conducted a four-month special investigation that went beyond the scope of the usual privacy investigation conducted in that it included:
- A detailed review of the literature and analysis from various parts of the world on the effectiveness of video surveillance;
- An examination of the role that privacy-enhancing technologies can play in mitigating the privacy-invasive nature of video surveillance cameras; and
- A detailed investigation into a privacy complaint by U.K-based Privacy International about the expansion of the TTC’s video surveillance system.
“Video surveillance presents a difficult subject matter for privacy officials to grapple with impartially because, on its face, it is inherently privacy-invasive due to the potential for data capture – despite that fact, there are legitimate uses for video surveillance … that render it in compliance with our privacy laws,” said the Commissioner. “Mass transit systems like the TTC, that are required to move large volumes of people, in confined spaces, on a daily basis, give rise to unique safety and security issues for the general public and operators of the system.”
“The challenge we thus face is to rein in, as tightly as possible, any potential for the unauthorized deployment of the system. We have attempted to do this by ensuring that strong controls are in place with respect to its governance (policy/procedures), oversight (independent audit, reportable to my office) and, the most promising long-term measure, the introduction of innovative privacy-enhancing technologies to effectively eliminate unauthorized access or use of any personal information obtained.”
While the expectation of privacy in public places is not the same as in private places, it does not disappear. People have the right, the Commissioner stresses in her report, to expect the following when it comes to video surveillance:
- That their personal information will only be collected for legitimate, limited and specific purposes;
- That the collection will be limited to the minimum necessary for the specified purposes; and
- That their personal information will only be used and disclosed for the specified purposes.
“These general principles,” said Commissioner Cavoukian, “should apply to all video surveillance systems. Where developments such as video surveillance in mass transit systems, like the TTC, can be shown to be needed for public safety, you must also ensure that threats to privacy are kept to an absolute minimum.”
Among the 13 recommendations the Commissioner is making to the TTC are the following:
- That the TTC reduce its retention period for video surveillance images from a maximum of seven days to a maximum of 72 hours (the same standard as the Toronto Police), unless required for an investigation;
- That the TTC’s video surveillance policy should specifically state that the annual audit must be thorough, comprehensive, and must test all program areas of the TTC employing video surveillance to ensure compliance with the policy and the written procedures. The initial audit should be conducted by an independent third party using Generally Accepted Privacy Principles, and should include an assessment of the extent to which the TTC has complied with the recommendations made in this special report;
- That the TTC should select a location to evaluate the privacy-enhancing video surveillance technology developed by University of Toronto researchers, K. Martin and K. Plataniotis; and
- That, prior to providing the police with direct remote access to the video surveillance images, the TTC should amend the draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Toronto Police to require that the logs of disclosures be subjected to regular audits, conducted on behalf of the TTC. A copy of the revised draft MOU should be provided to the Commissioner prior to signing.
EMERGING PRIVACY-ENHANCING TECHNOLOGY
The Commissioner devotes part of her 50-page special report, and a specific recommendation, to the area of emerging privacy-enhancing video surveillance technology.
“In light of the growth of surveillance technologies, not to mention the proliferation of biometrics and sensoring devices, the future of privacy may well lie in ensuring that the necessary protections are built right into their design,” said the Commissioner. “Privacy by design may be our ultimate protection in the future, promising a positive sum paradigm instead of the unlikely obliteration of a given technology.”
As an example of the research being conducted into privacy-enhancing technologies, the Commissioner cites the work of researchers Karl Martin and Kostas Plataniotis at the University of Toronto, who used cryptographic techniques to develop a secure object-based coding approach. While the background image captured by a surveillance camera can be viewed, the sections where individuals are caught in the image would automatically be encrypted by the software. Designated staff could monitor the footage for unauthorized activity, but would not be able to identify anyone. Only a limited number of designated officials with the correct encryption key could view the full image.
The Commissioner is recommending that the TTC select a location to evaluate the video surveillance technology developed by Martin and Plataniotis.
A copy of the special report is available on the IPC’s website, www.ipc.on.ca.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
What's the deal with surveillance cameras in bathrooms? I suppose that the WC is the last bastion of privacy, so it was bound to be invaded by surveillance cameras sooner or later.
Here's a story from the UK where school officials conceded to furious students to remove CCTV cams from school bathrooms: School removes CCTV cameras from children's toilets after furious protest from parents the Daily Mail
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Not interested in being captured on CCTV? Wear an IR light emitting headband. Apparently this device from Germany offers "protection from the protection". This is courtesy of Boing Boing, where one commentator says this is only useful to thwart IR cameras as most CCTV cameras have an IR filter attached. I don't know if this is the case, but it's clever. See Google's translated version of http://www.oberwelt.de/projects/2008/Filo%20art.htm
Monday, February 04, 2008
I got a number of calls today from media outlets today about a controversy that has erupted in Montreal. It appears a Second Cup franchisee recently installed a fake surveillance camera in bathroom stalls in an effort to dissuade drug users from using the bathrooms to shoot up.
My thoughts are summed up in the following quote from the Canadian press:
The Canadian Press: Montreal Second Cup owner forced to take down bathroom surveillance camera
... Still, privacy advocates are uncomfortable with the creeping presence of cameras in more intimate places such as bathrooms. Whether the camera works or not, the effect, they say, is the same.
"One of the weird things about this area of law is the fact that it is designed in many ways to protect people's feelings," said David Fraser, a privacy lawyer based in Halifax. ."It's about people not wanting to feel they're under surveillance."
For Fraser, the underlying issue is the sense of violation that comes with feeling one's private space is being subjected to anonymous, prying eyes.
"There isn't any real material difference between a fake camera and a real camera," he said. "Whether they're real or fake, you still have the feeling of being watched." ...
Monday, January 14, 2008
Personal information practices of bars and nightclubs are coming under increasing scrutiny, particularly with repect to video surveillance in Nova Scotia and the practice of scanning identification documents. Complaints related to the latter practice are pending in British Columbia and Alberta. It appears that a decision of the Alberta Commissioner is to be expected shortly: Alberta privacy commission to rule on bar scans.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
An editorial in today's Halifax Chronicle Herald is coming out in favour of the apparent clampdown on bars in Halifax, including the doubling of surveillance cameras and giving the police access to the feeds.* They even come out with the old line, "if you aren't breaking the law, you have nothing to worry about":
Nova Scotia News - TheChronicleHerald.ca:
"Some critics have raised concerns about the misuse of increased security cameras, or giving police and liquor licence inspectors access to the images. Bars, however, are public places. If individuals are not breaking the law, they have little need to worry. That said, any misuse of the security cameras should be punished."
Today's paper had the following letter to the editor:
Nova Scotia News - TheChronicleHerald.ca
Pretty public privacy
I read with amazement the Dec. 30 article "Lawyer: Cops watching bar videos a worry." It left me wondering how anyone could have any expectation of privacy in a public place.
By definition, "public" is the opposite of "private." One cannot have both at the same time.
There are those who claim that their privacy is taken away by video cameras in bars and on the street. Well, folks, you never had privacy in these public places in the first place, so how is it taken away from you?
If these people want privacy, I suggest they look for it in their homes or in a voting booth. Get over it.
John D. Spearns, Dartmouth
This is a fallacious supposition. Halifax is a small city. There's actually a pretty good chance that the person watching the monitor is a neighbour, a member of your church or at least somehow intersects with your social circle. (Just go to the public market on a Saturday morning and you'll see how small a city this is.)
People at bars routinely do things that are not -- I repeat, NOT -- illegal but they wouldn't want recorded for posterity and perhaps clipped and sent around in an e-mail. People go to bars to relax, to undwind, to meet people and maybe even do foolish but lawful things. I am sure that on any given night, extramarital affairs are begun at bars around town. (A bit foolish in such a small city, but ....) None of this is illegal and none of it merits the scrutiny of law enforcement. Having cameras that are being transmitted to the police in realtime can have a chilling effect on lawful behaviours. Just because you are publicly visible shouldn't mean that you surrender all rights to privacy. (One must remember, also, that a bar is not a "public place" but a private establishment into which the public is invited.)
It may be a different matter if the cameras were only used as an investigative tool to look into incidents after the fact, but there has been no indication that there will be any controls on these cameras.
Even the law-abiding bar patron has cause to worry.
*See: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Offsite surveillance in Halifax bar may set precedent and Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Halifax bar gets liquor license back on condition that cops have off-site access to surveillance system.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Just before New Year's, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review board reinstated the liquor license of a popular bar in Halifax on the condition (among others) that the bar double the number of surveillance cameras and allow liquor inspectors and the cops to have offsite access to the feeds (see: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Offsite surveillance in Halifax bar may set precedent and Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Halifax bar gets liquor license back on condition that cops have off-site access to surveillance system).
When this report came out, I voiced some concerns that this may set a dangerous precedent. Any move to implement such a scheme has to include very tight controls over how this new-found surveillance power will be used lest it be a license for unimpeded and unrestricted intrusiveness.
In case you were wondering what the slippery slope of function creep (to mix my metaphors) looks like, look no further than random ID checks in casinos in Illinois. Random identification checks by law enforcement officers were put in place to deal with excluded problem gamblers. Assurances were given that there would be no other use of that information or other abuse of this power. Now it's reported, shockingly, that the cops in Illinois casinos are checking for problem gablers, sex offenders, outstanding warrants and other micreants. See: Daily Herald Police admit ID checks in casinos turn up more than problem gamblers.
To put it bluntly, function creep is a very real phenomenon that needs to be anticipated and guarded against whenever a new intrusive technique or technology is rolled out.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
I was interviewed the other day by Chris Lambie of the Halifax Chronicle Herald in response to the recent decision to restore the liquor license of a well-known Halifax bar on the condition that it double its surveillance cameras and allow the feeds to be reviewed off-site by the police (See: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Halifax bar gets liquor license back on condition that cops have off-site access to surveillance system). I didn't realize that my comments would form its own article ...
Dome agreeing to let cops monitor patrons via in-house cameras could set precedent, privacy expert fears - Nova Scotia News - TheChronicleHerald.ca
By CHRIS LAMBIE Staff Reporter
Sun. Dec 30 - 5:27 AM
The decision to give law enforcement officials access to surveillance cameras at the Dome bar complex in downtown Halifax could mean other bars will be forced to do the same if they want to keep selling booze, says a privacy expert.
Authorities closed the Dome after a brawl early on Dec. 24 resulted in 38 arrests. The bar is back in business now, but only after it agreed to implement a long list of security measures, which include giving police and liquor inspectors full access to surveillance cameras at the premises or via the Internet.
"The biggest risk is this can become more common, and once you start doing that it’s very easy to extend it further and extend it further," said David Fraser, a privacy lawyer in Halifax.
"They see it work in once place and they extend it all over the place. And then it’s impossible to go out and have a drink without actually being watched by the police. A lot of people would get freaked out by that."
Once police and liquor inspectors get access to surveillance cameras in bars with a history of violence, authorities could make it mandatory in establishments with potential for problems, Mr. Fraser said.
"As these things become more normal or more standard, the less jarring it is for those who actually care about privacy.
"If you put a frog in a pot of cold water and you turn up the heat, it’s not going to jump out because it doesn’t notice the incremental changes."
There would be few limits on what authorities could do with the information they gather from surveillance cameras, Mr. Fraser said.
"It’s really no different than, theoretically, having a cop sitting at the bar or walking around the establishment. It’s just a whole lot more convenient and probably more pervasive."
Mr. Fraser said he’d be less likely to have a drink in a bar if he knew authorities could be watching.
"The idea of being watched at all has a psychological kind of a factor. For some people, it adds enough of a creep-out factor that, if you’re given the choice of two places that are otherwise identical, one has video surveillance which you know is being watched by cops and the other one doesn’t, regardless of whether or not you intend to do anything unlawful, you’d probably go to the place that was slightly less creepy. At least that would be my own inclination."
The more people watching surveillance cameras in bars, the more room there is for abuse, Mr. Fraser said.
"Sometimes on cable (TV) you’ll see these shows of weird things caught on surveillance," he said.
"Many of them come from the United Kingdom, where there’s pervasive surveillance by law enforcement. And people are making copies of these tapes when they see funny things. And you can tell, when you see how the cameras zoom, that they follow attractive women’s bottoms and things like that. Stuff like that really has the potential to be abused."
Police aren’t sure yet how they’ll use 64 surveillance cameras at the Dome.
"This is something new to us. We’ve never had access to their cameras, other than, as in any establishment, you would have after (a crime) for the purpose of investigation," Halifax Regional Police Supt. Don Spicer said after Friday’s Utility and Review Board hearing that reinstated the Dome’s liquor licence.
"So we really have to look at what we really will be doing with the access that we will be gaining."
There are signs outside the Dome indicating the bar is under video surveillance.
"When you go to a public place, which a bar is, and the signs are posted, I don’t think there will be any problems," said Environment and Labour Minister Mark Parent, who is responsible for the alcohol and gaming division.
The new camera system means liquor inspectors will be able to monitor the bar without being there, Mr. Parent said.
"That was something that the bar owner offered voluntarily and it makes our job that much easier," he said.
It does set a precedent "for bars like the Dome," Mr. Parent said.
"It clearly sends a signal to any other establishment that’s having problems that they need to take some dramatic steps."
At first, Mr. Parent said it’s not akin to the all-seeing Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-four.
"I guess Big Brother if you want to put it in that sense, if you’re out to do something wrong," he said. "If you’re not out to do something wrong, then I think you’d see it as a safeguard."
The cameras are "an effective low-cost tool because we don’t have the staffing to be everywhere at once," Mr. Parent said. "So I think the important thing is that notices are up so people know, so that it’s not a surprise to them."
Surveillance video could be used to both indict and clear people of any wrongdoing, he said.
"Certainly there are privacy concerns that need to be addressed," Mr. Parent said. "The tapes would need to be used only by official people. You’d have to be very careful how you used them and they would have to make sure that there was no abuse of that in any way. . . . It’s always a balance between public safety and public privacy."
Update: I was just interviewed by CBC Radio News here in Halifax on the story. Here's the piece:
Here, also, is the order of reinstatement from the Utility and Review Board of Nova Scotia.
Update: Here's a CBC online report: Police plans for Halifax bar surveillance cameras cause concerns.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Privacy International's latest report puts Canada at the top of the heap (along with Greece and Romania), but sinking into the mire.
The Canadian Press: Canada, Greece and Romania have best privacy records, global report says
Canada, Greece and Romania have best privacy records, global report says 59 minutes ago
LONDON - Individual privacy is best protected in Canada but is under threat in the United States and the European Union as governments introduce sweeping surveillance and information-gathering measures in the name of security and border control, an international rights group said in a report released Saturday.
Canada, Greece and Romania had the best privacy records of 47 countries surveyed by London-based watchdog Privacy International. Malaysia, Russia and China were ranked worst.
Both Britain and the United States fell into the lowest-performing group of "endemic surveillance societies."
"The general trend is that privacy is being extinguished in country after country," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "Even those countries where we expected ongoing strong privacy protection, like Germany and Canada, are sinking into the mire.
"I'm afraid that Canada has kind of lost the plot a plot a little bit this year and hence its move downwards," Davies told the Canadian Press in comments about Canada.
He cites the C-I-A's accessing the banking records of Canadians through the SWIFT banking information system, the Canadian no-fly list, and the Toronto Transit Commission's installation of security cameras as examples of the erosion of privacy rights.
He also decried the increasing number of programs involving the United States, which he said unfortunately has no federal privacy law.
"What's happening, is that Canadian information, sensitive information, is flowing across the border in increasing volumes," Davies said.
"Frankly, that's the sort of situation where government should put pressure on the U.S. government to protect that information legally," he said, "But it's not doing so."
The report came two days after Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart warned in a release that 2008 will be "another challenging one for privacy in Canada."
"Heightened national security concerns, the growing business appetite for personal information and technological advances are all potent - and growing - threats to privacy rights," Stoddart said.
In the United States, President George W. Bush's administration has come under fire from civil liberties groups for its domestic wiretapping program, which allows monitoring - without a warrant - of international phone calls and e-mails involving people suspected of having terrorist links.
"The last five years has seen a litany of surveillance initiatives," Davies said.
He said little had changed since the Democrats took control of Congress a year ago.
"We would expect the cancellation of some programs, the review of others, but this hasn't occurred," Davies said.
Britain was criticized for its plans for national identity cards, a lack of government accountability and the world's largest network of surveillance cameras.
Davies said the loss earlier this year of computer disks containing personal information and bank details on 25 million people in Britain highlighted the risks centralizing information on huge government databases.
The report said privacy protection was worsening across western Europe, although it was improving in the former Communist states of eastern Europe.
It said concern about terrorism, immigration and border security was driving the spread of identity and fingerprinting systems, often without regard to individual privacy.
The report said the trends "have been fuelled by the emergency of a profitable surveillance industry dominated by global IT companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside judicial or democratic processes."
The survey considers a range of factors including legal protection of privacy, enforcement, data sharing, the use of biometrics and prevalence of CCTV cameras.
Early on Christmas Eve a huge brawl at one of Halifax's largest bars resulted in the suspension of the property's liquor license. After a hearing yesterday, the license was restored on a number of conditions. Among them, the bar has to double the number of surveillance cameras on the premises and has to provide liquor regulators and the police with real-time access via the internet.
This is a first in Nova Scotia, but likely not the last time we'll hear of this. Why not have them mandatory in all licensed establishments? In all hotels? Hmm. Drinking takes place in university residences, so maybe we should require police surveillance of those places? The thin edge of the wedge.
Friday, September 07, 2007
This is too funny: Inside Bay Area - Burglars nabbed after stealing from video surveillance firm.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Today's New York Times has an interesting article on new surveillance technologies being built by American companies for use in China:
China Enacting a High-Tech Plan to Track People - New York Times
... Starting this month in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people, residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips programmed by the same company will be issued to most citizens.
Data on the chip will include not just the citizen’s name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China’s controversial “one child” policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card.
Security experts describe China’s plans as the world’s largest effort to meld cutting-edge computer technology with police work to track the activities of a population and fight crime. But they say the technology can be used to violate civil rights....
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
I was interviewed about this on a Montreal radio station on Friday. It's an interesting issue, because information is not being collected:
Toilet cam working even when it doesn't
Toilet cam working even when it doesn't
Mall customer outraged but landlord says dummy is effective
MICHELLE LALONDE, The Gazette
Published: Friday, August 03
Yes, that's a real surveillance camera on the ceiling of the men's washroom off the food court of Les Cours Mont Royal - but don't worry, it's not operating.
That reassurance was not good enough for at least one Montreal businessman who was outraged to see a video camera in a public bathroom at the downtown Montreal mall.
The camera is inside a protective dome and appears to be pointed toward the washroom's common area, where the urinals are. As of yesterday, there were no signs explaining what the camera is for or whether it is on.
When the man asked a maintenance person about the camera, he was told it wasn't actually functioning but was there to discourage certain activities.
"If the video surveillance is not functional, what assurances do we have that it will not be in the future?"the man wrote in a complaint to mall owners Soltron Realty Inc., which he forwarded to The Gazette on the condition his name not be published.
"If it is functional," the letter continued, "who is watching, is the information secure and will we find our pictures on the Internet? ... I find the use of surveillance camera (real or fake) inside a washroom to be absolutely unethical, immoral and most likely illegal." Unless the camera is removed within 10 days, the man said, he will lodge a complaint with Quebec's privacy commission.
A spokesperson for Soltron said the camera was installed in the washroom several years ago to discourage "sexual misconduct and drug use." Carmela Amorosa, marketing director for Soltron, said the company realized it was illegal to place an operating camera in a public bathroom, but felt some action was necessary.
"It is working," Amorosa said. "Now we don't have these problems. We are doing this to protect our customers from this sort of behaviour in the bathroom." But the case raises questions about the right to privacy and video surveillance, said sources in Quebec's Justice Department, as well as federal and provincial agencies that safeguard privacy.
"People are right to be concerned about being monitored," said Colin McKay, of the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
"The case is interesting because they are not technically collecting information, they are just giving that impression. But perception for a lot of people is a legitimate concern. If they are doing it as a deterrent, they should make that clear." Luc Fortin, an aide to Benot Pelletier, the cabinet minister responsible for Quebec's privacy commission, said it is unclear whether a complaint about camera surveillance in a public washroom would be heard by the Privacy Commission or the Human Rights Commission.
"If it is a question of voyeurism, that would clearly be a case for the Human Rights Commission, but if the camera is being used to gather information and set up a file about a specific person, it would be something we would deal with," Fortin said.
"It's not technically illegal" to install video cameras in public bathrooms, "but companies that do it certainly risk complaints," said Robert Sylvestre of the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
Several court cases have resulted in jurisprudence and a set of principles about video surveillance in public places, he said.
"One of those principles is that the operator of the camera should be able to show that other methods have been tried and failed before they resorted to this."
Video cameras are coming to public transportation in British Columbia. Probably not breaking news, but I find the following quote to be interesting:
"Many proponents of the system say the public is already recorded on video in malls, ATM machines, and various other areas. Cameras on buses and other public areas, they believe, is simply a natural extension."
With cameras in many places, where is it not a natural extension? Once they are commonplace in one public area, it's very easy to justify putting them in another locale.
BCNG Portals Page (R)
Closed-circuit TV cameras coming to buses
By Kevin Diakiw Black Press
Aug 03 2007
Cameras will be installed on all buses in the coming months, but privacy watch-dogs are concerned about how they’ll be used.
TransLink will spend $4 million for camera installation, primarily as a measure for driver safety. However, TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said cameras will be placed on various areas of the bus, and will not simply be focused at the driver.
“I believe actually there will be more than one camera on the bus, there will be a number of different views,” Hardie said Wednesday.
The expansion of Closed Circuit Television cameras (CCTV) onto buses has been sold primarily as a device to prevent assaults on drivers.
Hardie said they will have several uses.
“Let’s say taggers, who can create mayhem inside a bus, just by leaving graffiti and other damage,” Hardie said. “... now buses might not leave them the kind of anonymity that they love to have when they do their work.”
It’s that kind of “function creep” that concerns civil libertarians.
“I am concerned about this notion ... now that we’ve got them on the bus ... let’s point them all over the bus and let’s catch the kids with crayons in the back seat while we’re at it,” said Micheal Vonn, policy director for B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
She’s also concerned about who would have access to the images.
Hardie said the video will be “recorded on board” to a hard drive and overwritten every week. A special team with Coast Mountain Bus Ltd. would be the only people with access to the video, unless required by police or court.
Many proponents of the system say the public is already recorded on video in malls, ATM machines, and various other areas. Cameras on buses and other public areas, they believe, is simply a natural extension.
“The question is to what degree are we becoming immune to the idea we should not be on film whenever we’re outside of our house,” Vonn said.
With scores of people already on any particular bus witnessing what’s going on, many feel the public expectation of privacy is low.
Vonn has heard the argument and disagrees.
“If I’m in a restaurant having a private conversation with a friend, a server can overhear snatches of what I’m saying,” Vonn said. “It’s quite different than having my Waldorf salad bugged and my entire conversation recorded.”
Hardie said TransLink is working with the B.C. Privacy Commissioner and will be submitting a privacy impact assessment as part of the process.
At the end of the day, the public will be safer with the presence of cameras on the region’s buses, he said.
“For one element, to know their actions are being recorded will make them think twice, there will be a deterrent effect in some respects,” Hardie said.
TransLink is hoping it will serve not only as an effective investigative tool for police, but will lead to stiffer penalties when perpetrators go to court.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
In a preliminary letter to the complainant, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has concluded that the Law School Admissions Council violates PIPEDA by requiring candidates to submit to fingerprinting at the time the LSAT test is taken:
CIPPIC News « CIPPIC
In a decision released earlier this month, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found that the requirement for Canadian students to provide a finger/thumb print in order to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is an unnecessary infringement of privacy.
One of the most interesting aspects of the letter is the conclusion that the non-profit LSAC is engaged in commercial activities sufficient to have PIPEDA apply in the first place.
Also, the Assistant Commissioner's conclusion turned on the four point test applied in the past to video surveillance:
Sunday, April 08, 2007
The British Royal Academy of Engineers has published a very interesting report on privacy and technology: Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance. It is important that those that design technology have an appreciation of the privacy impact of that technology and this report is an encouraging step in that direction.
1. Executive Summary
This study identifies likely developments in information technology in the near future, considers their impact on the citizen, and makes recommendations on how to optimize their benefits to society. The report focuses on an area where the developments in IT have had a particularly significant impact in our everyday lives - the use of IT in surveillance, data-capture, and identity management. It looks at the threats that these technologies may pose and at the role engineering can play in avoiding and managing these risks. The following is a summary of the central concepts and issues that the report investigates and the judgments the report makes about them.
Technological development: Technologies for the collection, storage, transmission and processing of data are developing rapidly. These technological developments promise many benefits: improved means of storing and analysing medical records and health data could lead to improvements in medical care and in management of public health; electronic logging of journey details can promise improved provision of public transport and more logical pricing for road use; and more details of peoples' everyday behaviour offer the possibility for developing better public policy generally.
However, the development of these technologies also has the potential to impact significantly on privacy. How they develop is to a large extent under the control of society. They can be allowed to develop in a way that means personal data are open to the view of others - either centralised spies or local peeping toms. Or, they can be allowed to develop so that personal data are collected and stored in an organised, controlled and secure manner. There is a choice between a 'Big Brother' world where individual privacy is almost extinct and a world where the data are kept by individual organisations or services, and kept secret and secure. The development of technology should be monitored and managed so that its potential effects are understood and controlled. The possibility of failures of technologies needs to be explored thoroughly, so that failures can be prepared for and, where possible, prevented. Designing for privacy: There is a challenge to engineers to design products and services which can be enjoyed whilst their users' privacy is protected. Just as security features have been incorporated into car design, privacy protecting features should be incorporated into the design of products and services that rely on divulging personal information.
For example: means of charging road users for the journeys they make can be devised in such a way that an individuals' journeys are kept private; ID or 'rights' cards can be designed so that they can be used to verify essential information without giving away superfluous personal information or creating a detailed audit trail of individuals' behaviour; sensitive personal information stored electronically could potentially be protected from theft or misuse by using digital rights management technology. Engineering ingenuity should be exploited to explore new ways of protecting privacy.
Privacy and the law: British and European citizens have a right to privacy that is protected in law. The adequate exercise of that right depends on what is understood by 'privacy'. This notion needs clarification, in order to aid the application of the law, and to protect adequately those whose privacy is under threat. In particular, it is essential that privacy laws keep up with the technological developments which impact on the right to and the expectation of privacy, especially the development of the Internet as a networking space and a repository of personal information. The laws protecting privacy need to be clarified in order to be more effective. As well as making the letter of the law more perspicuous, the spirit must be made more powerful - the penalties for breaches of the Data Protection Act (1998) are close to trivial. The report backs calls for greater penalties for misuse of data - including custodial sentences.
Surveillance: The level of surveillance of public spaces has increased rapidly over recent years, and continues to grow. Moreover, the development of digital surveillance technology means that the nature of surveillance has changed dramatically. Digital surveillance means that there is no barrier to storing all footage indefinitely and ever-improving means of image-searching, in tandem with developments in face and gait-recognition technologies, allows footage to be searched for individual people. This will one day make it possible to 'Google spacetime', to find the location of a specified individual at some particular time and date.
Methods of surveillance need to be explored which can offer the benefits of surveillance whilst being publicly acceptable. This will involve frank discussion of the effectiveness of surveillance. There should also be investigation of the possibility of designing surveillance systems that are successful in reducing crimes whilst reducing collateral intrusion into the lives of law-abiding citizens.
Technology and trust: Trust in the government is essential to democracy. Government use of surveillance and data collection technology, as well as the greater collection and storage of personal data by government, have the potential to decrease the level of democratic trust significantly. The extent of citizens' trust in the government to procure and manage new technologies successfully can be damaged if such projects fail. Essential to generating trust is action by government to consider as wide a range of failure scenarios as possible, so that failures can be prevented where possible, and government can be prepared for them where not. There also need to be new processes and agencies to implement improvements. If a government is seen as implementing technologies wisely, then it will be considered more trustworthy.
Protecting data: Loss or theft of personal data, or significant mistakes in personal data, can have catastrophic effects on an individual. They may find themselves refused credit, refused services, the subject of suspicion, or liable for debts that they did not incur. There is a need for new thinking on how personal data is stored and processed. Trusted third parties could act as data banks, holding data securely, ensuring it is correct and passing it on only when authorised. Citizens could have their rights over the ownership, use and protection of their personal data clarified in a digital charter which would specify just how electronic personal data can be used and how it should be protected.
Equality: Personal data are frequently used to construct profiles and the results used to make judgements about individuals in terms of their creditworthiness, their value to a company and the level of customer service they should receive. Although profiling will reveal significant differences between individuals, the results of profiling should not be used for unjustifiable discrimination against individuals or groups. Profiling should also be executed with care, to avoid individuals being mistakenly classified in a certain group and thus losing rights which are legitimately theirs.
Reciprocity: Reciprocity between subject and controller is essential to ensure that data collection and surveillance technologies are used in a fair way. Reciprocity is the establishment of two-way communication and genuine dialogue, and is key to making surveillance acceptable to citizens. An essential problem with the surveillance of public spaces is that the individual citizen is in no position either to accept or reject surveillance. This heightens the sense that we may be developing a 'Big Brother' society. This should be redressed by allowing citizens access to more information about exactly when, where and why they are being watched, so that they can raise objections to surveillance if it is deemed unnecessary or excessively intrusive.
R1 Systems that involve the collection, checking and processing of personal information should be designed in order to diminish the risk of failure as far as reasonably practicable. Development of such systems should make the best use of engineering expertise in assessing and managing vulnerabilities and risks. Public sector organisations should take the lead in this area, as they collect and process a great deal of sensitive personal data, often on a non-voluntary basis.
R2 Many failures can be foreseen. It is essential to have procedures in place to deal with the consequences of failure in systems used to collect, store or process personal information. These should include processes for aiding and compensating individuals who are affected.
R3 Human rights law already requires that everyone should have their reasonable expectation of privacy respected and protected. Clarification of what counts as a reasonable expectation of privacy is necessary in order to protect this right and a public debate, including the legal, technical and political communities, should be encouraged in order to work towards a consensus on the definition of what is a 'reasonable expectation'. This debate should take into account the effect of an easily searchable Internet when deciding what counts as a reasonable expectation of privacy.
R4 The powers of the Information Commissioner should be extended. Significant penalties - including custodial sentences - should be imposed on individuals or organisations that misuse data. The Information Commissioner should also have the power to perform audits and to direct that audits be performed by approved auditors in order to encourage organisations to always process data in accordance with the Data Protection Act. A public debate should be held on whether the primary control should be on the collection of data, or whether it is the processing and use of data that should be controlled, with penalties for improper use.
R5 Organisations should not seek to identify the individuals with whom they have dealings if all they require is authentication of rightful access to goods or services. Systems that allow automated access to a service such as public transport should be developed to use only the minimal authenticating information necessary. When organisations do desire identification, they should be required to justify why identification, rather than authentication, is needed. In such circumstances, a minimum of identifying information should be expected.
R6 Research into the effectiveness of camera surveillance is necessary, to judge whether its potential intrusion into people's privacy is outweighed by its benefits. Effort should be put into researching ways of monitoring public spaces that minimise the impact on privacy - for example, pursuing engineering research into developing effective means of automated surveillance which ignore law-abiding activities.
R7 Information technology services should be designed to maintain privacy. Research should be pursued into the possibility of 'designing for privacy' and a concern for privacy should be encouraged amongst practising engineers and engineering teachers. Possibilities include designing methods of payment for travel and other goods and services without revealing identity and protecting electronic personal information by using similar methods to those used for protecting copyrighted electronic material.
R8 There is need for clarity on the rights and expectations that individuals have over their personal information. A digital charter outlining an individual's rights and expectations over how their data are managed, shared and protected would deliver that clarity. Access by individuals to their personal data should also be made easier; for example, by automatically providing free copies of credit reports annually. There should be debate on how personal data are protected - how it can be ensured that the data are accurate, secure and private. Companies, or other trusted, third-party organisations, could have the role of data banks - trusted guardians of personal data. Research into innovative business models for such companies should be encouraged.
R9 Commercial organisations that select their customers or vary their offers to individuals on the basis of profiling should be required, on request, to divulge to the data subjects that profiling has been used. Profiling will always be used to differentiate between customers, but unfair or excessively discriminating profiling systems should not be permitted.
R10 Data collection and use systems should be designed so that there is reciprocity between data subjects and owners of the system. This includes transparency about the kinds of data collected and the uses intended for it; and data subjects having the right to receive clear explanations and justifications for data requests. In the case of camera surveillance, there should be debate on and research into ways to allow the public some level of access to the images captured by surveillance cameras.
Thanks to DP thinker for the link.
Monday, April 02, 2007
This is London has a piece on CCTV in London and uses George Orwell's former house as a good illustration: Within 200 yards of the house are 28 CCTV cameras. See: George Orwell, Big Brother is watching your house - News - This is London,
Friday, February 16, 2007
A federal court judge in New York has delivered a strong rejection the practice of routine law enforcement video taping of protests unless there is actual reason to believe that illegal acts will be comitted.
Judge Limits New York Police Taping - New York Times
In a rebuke of a surveillance practice greatly expanded by the New York Police Department after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal judge ruled yesterday that the police must stop the routine videotaping of people at public gatherings unless there is an indication that unlawful activity may occur.
Four years ago, at the request of the city, the same judge, Charles S. Haight Jr., gave the police greater authority to investigate political, social and religious groups.
In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Haight, of United States District Court in Manhattan, found that by videotaping people who were exercising their right to free speech and breaking no laws, the Police Department had ignored the milder limits he had imposed on it in 2003....
From Boing Boing.
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