Sunday, January 06, 2008

Even the law-abiding bar patron has cause to worry

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 -

"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 -

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lobbying for stricter drinking laws is likely to follow as the police use recordings of such feeds to publicly request assistance in identifying unknown people. A sort of "Wanted down your bar" rather than fastest chases.