News / Canada

Prof offers $100 to any Canadian who can find a ‘privacy-compliant’ surveillance camera

A University of Toronto professor is offering $100 to anyone who can show him a surveillance camera, operated by a business, that complies with Canada’s privacy laws — but it isn’t an easy C-note.

“We thought this is something that calls for more attention, so we wanted to document the problem without having to do all the documentation ourselves,” said Prof. Andrew Clement, co-ordinator of the Information Policy Research Program at the University of Toronto.

Privacy laws differ between provinces and between the public and private sector, but Canada’s privacy commission has summed up the requirements businesses have when recording people’s images in a public area, said Clement. One requirement that is visibly lacking in most cases is a sign informing people that they are being recorded.

The signs should also say what the purpose of the surveillance is and who to contact about it, said Clement.

After two years of offering the $100 reward to his students for educational purposes, he’s now opening it up to the entire country. Anyone can submit photos and descriptions of surveillance cameras and through an Andriod app, which is at the Beta-testing stage, but available through Google Play.

 A surveillance camera films passersby on Church Street in Toronto.

A surveillance camera films passersby on Church Street in Toronto.

In some cases, it can be hard to tell who is responsible for a camera, which is itself a problem, according to Clement.

“We have a right to know who’s collecting our information, that’s fundamental to our privacy legislation,” he said. “If you don’t see a sign, it’s clearly not compliant with privacy laws around informed consent.”

That law does not apply to privately owned cameras, such as those used in home security systems.

On Wednesday, Metro contacted a large property management company and a luxury hotel chain, both of which have surveillance cameras looking out on downtown streets. Neither responded to questions about the cameras' compliance by the end of the day.

 Professor Andrew Clement.

Professor Andrew Clement.

Clement believes informing people when they are being recorded is important now, but will become even more important in the future as technology develops.

“Generally, we think that laws, where they exist, should be complied with,” he said.

Video surveillance is also an issue for people who don’t want their intimate moments recorded and marginalized people, when under surveillance, will more likely be treated with suspicion, he said.

“A growing concern, which hasn’t emerged much yet, is when analytic capabilities are being built into these cameras — facial recognition or other kinds of tracking,” he said.

Technology is being developed that can track people's information and link it to their image, and that poses much greater privacy issues, said Clement, adding that now is the time for people to insist on their privacy rights.

“Once the cameras are up, and we’re used to having cameras around, and we don’t draw attention to those who operating them and call them into account, then they are pretty much free to do whatever (they want),” he said.

“Now is the time for us to pay attention to where our personal information is going and who's doing what with it for what reasons.”

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