The next time you walk down an urban street, look around.
Chances are you’ll see surveillance cameras pointed at public spaces.
- Can you tell who is operating those cameras?
- Why are they there?
- Do you know what is happening to your image?
- Are these surveillance networks compliant with Canadian privacy laws?
About the SurveillanceRights project
SurveillanceRights is a research project that aims to better inform Canadians about video surveillance and their rights in relation to it. We are developing this website and the SurveillanceWatch smartphone app for mapping the location of surveillance cameras using crowdsourced contributions from people like you.
You can use SurveillanceWatch to:
- spot the video surveillance in your vicinity
- tell others about the video surveillance you spot
- alert you to video surveillance that is not privacy compliant
- learn about your privacy rights under Canadian law
Who is watching you, and why?
Video surveillance is common in Canada — cameras overlook public sidewalks, intersections, shopping centres, office buildings, and many other publicly accessible areas. You can spot cameras operated by stores, bars, restaurants, property managers, banks, hotels, police services, hospitals, schools, universities, and more.
Are your privacy rights respected?
Because video surveillance operators capture personal information, they come under Canadian privacy legislation. For example, video surveillance in commercial operations is governed by the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) or provincial equivalent.
You have the right to an informed choice
Canadian Privacy Commissioners have noted that ‘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 is so we can make an informed choice about whether or not to enter.
You have the right to know who is watching you and why
Signs should at a minimum clearly tell you:
- who is operating the camera
- who you can contact if you have questions
- the purpose(s) of the surveillance
A study conducted in 2010-2011 by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information found that most privately operated video surveillance networks in the Greater Toronto Area (approximately 70%) did not display any signs at all, even though they are required to do so. Of the signs that did exist, not a single sign was found that met all basic requirements under PIPEDA.
What can you do about it?
We have yet to find a single private sector video surveillance installation that is compliant with Canadian law. We offer a $100 reward to the first person to bring a fully compliant installation to our attention.
For more information about video surveillance installations, see our video surveillance mapping site currently under development. Please help others who are concerned about privacy rights by adding information about video surveillance you’ve spotted. We welcome your comments and suggestions.