By Elliott Goldstein
New video surveillance guidelines, endorsed by the Privacy Commissioners of Canada, Alberta, and British Columbia, were released in early March 2008. These long-awaited guidelines give private sector organizations (e.g., retailers, apartment buildings, commercial offices, companies) much needed guidance and assistance regarding “how companies should evaluate the use of video surveillance and ensure the surveillance they undertake is conducted in a way that respects privacy rights and complies with the law.” (News Release “Privacy Commissioners Release New Video Surveillance Guidelines” (March 6, 2008), found at www.priv.com.gc.ca/media.)
By Elliott Goldstein
These guidelines apply to overt video surveillance of the public by
private sector organizations in publicly accessible areas, but do not
apply to covert video surveillance, such as when private investigators
conduct surveillance on behalf of insurance companies or lawyers. Nor
do these guidelines apply to surveillance of employees in the workplace.
The guidelines include a list of 10 things to do when considering,
planning and using video surveillance, which are as follows (All quotes are from Guidelines for Overt Video Surveillance in the Private Sector March 2008, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, found at:
1. Determine whether a less privacy-invasive alternative to video surveillance would meet your needs.
2. Establish the business reason for conducting video surveillance and use video surveillance only for that reason.
3. Develop a policy on the use of video surveillance.
4. Limit the use and viewing range of cameras as much as possible.
5. Inform the public that video surveillance is taking place.
6. Store any recorded images in a secure location, with limited
access, and destroy them when they are no longer required for business
7. Be ready to answer questions from the public. Individuals have
the right to know who is watching them and why, what information is
being captured, and what is being done with recorded images.
8. Give individuals access to information about themselves. This includes video images.
9. Educate camera operators on the obligation to protect the privacy of individuals.
10. Periodically evaluate the need for video surveillance.
The Guidelines also contain the following very helpful questions and answers:
Q. What can we use video surveillance for?
A. There are a number of situations where it may be reasonable to
expect video surveillance to take place, for example, for security
purposes around banking machines or inside convenience stores in
high-crime areas. In areas where people have a much higher expectation
of privacy, such as a public washroom or a spa treatment room, video
surveillance is inappropriate.
When considering the use of video surveillance, make sure that all less
privacy invasive alternatives have been looked at. It is preferable to
first put the appropriate security measures in place, such as placing
inventory under lock and key.
Q. What are we allowed to do with the information we obtain through video surveillance?
A. Information collected through video surveillance should only be used
for the purpose that surveillance is being undertaken, or for purposes
that are permitted by law. For example, if cameras are installed in an
apartment building parking garage for safety purposes, the information
cannot be used to track the movements of tenants. However, if a car is
broken into, the information can be disclosed to law enforcement.
Q. What should we keep in mind when installing and operating the cameras?
A. The video surveillance system should be set up and operated to
collect the minimum amount of information to be effective. This helps
reduce the intrusion on individuals’ privacy. Specifically:
• Cameras that are turned on for limited periods in the day are preferable to “always on” surveillance.
• Cameras should be positioned to reduce capturing images of
individuals who are not being targeted. For example, a store security
camera should not be recording passersby outside the store.
• Cameras should not be aimed at areas where people have a
heightened expectation of privacy, for example, showers or into
windows. Steps should be taken to ensure that cameras cannot be
adjusted or manipulated by the operator to capture images in such
• Sound should not be recorded unless there is a specific need to do so.
• If a camera is monitored, the recording function should be turned on only when unlawful activity is suspected or observed.
Organizations should also ensure that the video surveillance complies
with all applicable laws, in addition to privacy legislation. For
example, an organization using a video camera that captures sound needs
to consider the Criminal Code provisions dealing with the collection of
Q. Should we post signs that there are cameras in operation?
A. Yes. Most privacy laws require the organization conducting video
surveillance to post a clear and understandable notice about the use of
cameras on its premises to individuals whose images might be captured
by them, before these individuals enter the premises. This gives people
the option of not entering the premises if they object to the
surveillance. Signs should include a contact in case individuals have
questions or if they want access to images related to them.
Q. What are our responsibilities with regard to recorded images?
• The recorded images must be stored in a secure location, and
access should be granted only to a limited number of authorized
• Individuals have the right to access images relating to them. When
disclosing recordings to individuals who appear in them, the
organization must ensure that identifying information about any other
individuals on the recording is not revealed. This can be done through
technologies that mask identity.
• Any disclosure of video surveillance recordings outside the organization should be justified and documented.
• Recordings should only be kept as long as necessary to fulfill the
purpose of the video surveillance. Recordings no longer required should
be destroyed. Organizations must ensure that the destruction is secure.
Q. What are our obligations to the people who operate our video surveillance system?
A. Organizations should ensure that appropriate and ongoing training is provided to operators to make certain that they:
• understand their obligations under all relevant legislation, these
Guidelines, and the organization’s video surveillance policy; and
• conduct surveillance only for the purposes identified by the organization.
Q. Once the video surveillance system is up and running, what do we
need to do to ensure continued compliance with privacy laws?
A. Organizations should evaluate all aspects of the operation of their
video surveillance system regularly. In particular, organizations
should examine whether video surveillance continues to be required and
• Was video surveillance effective in addressing the problem for which it was introduced?
• Does the problem still exist?
• Would a less intrusive way of addressing the problem now be effective?
Q. How should my organization document the use of video surveillance?
A. Organizations should develop a policy on video surveillance that sets out:
• the rationale and purpose of the surveillance system;
• the location and field of vision of the equipment;
• any special capabilities of the system, for example, sound, zoom, facial recognition or night-vision features;
• the rationale and purpose of the specific locations of equipment and fields of vision selected;
• the personnel authorized to operate the system and access the information it contains;
• the times when surveillance will be in effect;
• whether and when recording will occur;
• the place where signals from the equipment will be received and monitored;
• guidelines for managing video surveillance recordings, including security, use, disclosure, and retention;
• procedures for the secure disposal of video surveillance recordings;
• a process to follow if there is unauthorized disclosure of images;
• procedures for individuals to access personal information captured
and challenge any suspected failure to comply with the policy;
• sanctions for the organization’s employees and contractors for failing to adhere to the policy; and
• the individual accountable for privacy compliance and who can answer any questions about the surveillance.”
It is important to note that the surveillance information obtained
through a video camera does NOT need to be recorded in order for PIPEDA
and PIPA (the provincial personal information protection acts in Alta.
and B.C.) to apply.
Elliott Goldstein B.A., LL.B. is a Woodbridge, Ont.-based lawyer.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.