Big Brother is not coming to the city of St. John’s just yet, but hidden cameras are allowed under proposed surveillance regulations.
A draft electronic surveillance policy will be discussed at Wednesday’s committee of the whole meeting that seeks to clarify who has access to surveillance footage, who can distribute it and who can use hidden cameras in the city.
Coun. Dave Lane says the new rules won’t mean more security cameras in the city just yet.
“It’s really an effort to make sure that first and foremost our employees are safe and secure. Also, that their privacy is protected, but also that there’s accountability to what is surveilled, how that information is used, and who has authority and access to that information,” said Lane.
The surveillance rules lay out that the city manager, city clerk, a designated deputy city manager, as well as the managers of emergency preparedness and corporate security will have access to security footage throughout the city.
As it stands, city manager Kevin Breen will have the most authority over where new security cameras can be placed in the future.
Council members will also be able to view any of the tape, but have no right to distribute images.
Hidden cameras will be allowed in the new regulation. Lane says that’s primarily for catching people in the act of illegal garbage dumping, but they can be used by the police. The proposed rules say covert equipment can’t be installed by the police “unless it’s associated with an investigation which may result in legal action.”
Lane says as far as he’s aware, no covert surveillance is currently being undertaken by the city.
If new cameras are installed, signage will be placed nearby to let people know they’re being filmed — except in the case of hidden cameras.
Any personal information captured by city surveillance can be held by the city for up to 90 days. The city can hold onto information regarding an ongoing police investigation for up to a week, or until the investigation is over.
The new rules will have to fall in line with the provincial Privacy Act and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Lane says he doesn’t expect that the public will notice much change, should the new rules be approved by council.
“The public won’t see an increase in surveillance because of this policy,” said Lane.
“The public will see a set of rules and guidelines that have to be followed by the city in order to be doing any type of surveillance. It’ll give them that sense of security and accountability that they can look to whenever they’re concerned about something related to surveillance.”
The policy will be debated at Wednesday’s committee of the whole and put up for a vote at an upcoming regular council meeting.