Thursday, March 06, 2008

Privacy Commissioners Release New Video Surveillance Guidelines

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, and 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.


Serena Henderson said...

These CCTV cameras are really essential nowadays along with alarm systems because it gives added security to families.

Felice Hayman said...

You got that right Serena, especially now that there's an increase on crime rates. As a parent, I will do everything to protect my child, even if I have to pay for all these security systems.