Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Montreal mall fake toilet-cam raising concerns

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


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wrote in a complaint to mall owners Soltron Realty Inc., which he forwarded to The Gazette on the condition his name not be published.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."


Amir Kafshdaran said...

David, has there been any developments on this toilet-cam issue?

Anonymous said...

I happened to be using the can today when I saw the writings on the door pointing me to smile at the camera overhead. I was outraged and embarrassed at the same time. The camera is in direct line of sight of where I was sitting. I was looking for a way to complain about this when I found this website online. Who should I complain about this to? Any progress on the previous complaints?

David T.S. Fraser said...

I haven't heard anything further about this.

The place to complain, other than to the property owner, would be the privacy commissioner for Quebec:

Me Jacques Saint-Laurent
Commission d'accès à l'information du Québec
575 St. Amable Street
Suite 1.10
Québec, Québec G1R 2G4
Phone: (418) 528-7741
Fax: (418) 529-3102
Toll-free: 1 (888) 528-7741 (free within Quebec)
Email: Cai.Communications@cai.gouv.qc.ca
Web Site: http://www.cai.gouv.qc.ca/index-en.html