The Town of Paradise has been asked to shut down all of its video surveillance cameras.
It appears the town may have been peeking a little too far into the personal space of members of the public and of employees in certain areas, according to the province’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Commissioner Donovan Molloy filed a report Tuesday in which he found the town’s video surveillance system was collecting personal information without the proper authorization set out in the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, 2015 (ATIPPA, 2015).
Molloy’s investigation was based on a complaint made against the town in September 2017.
The commissioner also said that during his investigation into the complaint, the town refused to provide much of the information requested by his office.
The mayor of Paradise must now respond within 10 business days as to whether the town will comply with the request to shut down the system. The town had challenged the commissioner’s authority and the process used to request the detailed information.
The report notes the town operates 87 video cameras distributed among the town hall, the town depot, recreation facilities and the community centre. Most of the cameras were installed and activated in December 2016.
The report states that 69 cameras are in public areas and 18 in staff-only areas. Of the 87 cameras, 64 are located outside buildings, while 23 are located inside. There are 16 signs posted in various locations advising people that the area is under video surveillance.
“One of the premises of the ATIPPA, 2015 is that public bodies must satisfy all requirements with respect to the collection of personal information,” the report stated.
When Molloy’s office notified the Town of Paradise of the complaint, it asked a number of questions about the video surveillance system, the reasons for its installation, the handling of the information obtained and the town’s policies, procedures and plans relating to the system.
“The town responded in October 2017, providing most of the information we requested. Once we reviewed the response, we determined that more information was necessary,” Molloy said. “We sent the town a second letter on Dec. 6, 2017 seeking more detail in the areas of legislative authorization and operational necessity for the video surveillance system. We also asked about access controls and security.
“(Instead of the information), we received a letter on Jan. 17, 2018 from the town objecting to our jurisdiction and procedures.”
Molloy notes that recorded information about an identifiable individual is personal information as defined in Section 2(u) of the ATIPPA, 2015. The town countered that if the individuals recorded were not identified, it would not be personal information.
“While we agree that it requires additional information to link a person’s image to a name, that linkage is often not difficult,” Molloy said. “That is why privacy statutes refer to ‘identifiable’ rather than ‘identified’ individuals in the definition of personal information. If the person in an image could potentially be identified the image is their personal information.”
The town requested a complete copy of the complaint made against it, but Molloy said Section 73(5) of the ATIPPA, 2015 requires only that his office provide a summary of the complaint. The complainant in this case had requested anonymity.
“The town also objected to our process, taking the position that our investigation created a ‘reverse onus’ on the town to justify its collection of purported personal information without first receiving evidence of their failure to comply with the act.”
The report notes the town stated it installed the surveillance system following bomb threats, false activation of fire alarms, theft, vandalism, property damage and complaints of illegal activity. The town’s policy states that the purpose of video surveillance is to provide additional security to town workers, visitors to and users of town facilities, and town property, while complying with the ATIPPA, 2015.
“The town did not explain how video surveillance of staff-only areas would accomplish this purpose or why it was necessary,” Molloy noted.
“The question becomes, how does the collection of people’s personal information through video surveillance relate to the provision of municipal services at those locations, and why is the collection of that information necessary? The town must be able to answer those questions in order to demonstrate that its collection of personal information via its video surveillance system is authorized by the act.”
The town stated it previously used recorded information on two occasions: once during the investigation of a potential theft, and once in the investigation of potential damage to a vehicle in the town hall parking lot.
Molloy said no other details, such as whether the town collected useful information from the recordings, was provided.
Molloy’s office had asked that the town describe in detail each of the locations in which cameras were installed, and explain the reasons for placing a camera in that location.
“While we sought a significant amount of information, it is information that the town should have assembled prior to installing the cameras in order to ensure that its video surveillance program was in compliance with Section 61 of the ATIPPA, 2015,” Molloy said.
“The town failed to provide this information.”
The report said information was needed to answer the questions as to whether less intrusive means — such as more lighting or more staff in certain areas — could address the concerns.
“As previously noted, 18 of the cameras are installed in ‘staff-only’ areas,” Molloy stated. “On what basis did the town conclude that these cameras were necessary and that other less intrusive means were insufficient? To any reasonable observer it raises the possibility that at least some of the cameras are located with a view to monitoring the activities of staff. The town’s employees have rights in regard to the privacy of their personal information. Video surveillance might be convenient to employers but it is a last resort measure, not a first.”
This is not the first time the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner looked into a complaint regarding the town’s video camera system.
In a previous report, Molloy recommended the town acquire the storage capacity to preserve all video surveillance recordings in compliance with its video surveillance policy, and that it acquire or source the capacity to de-identify persons recorded by its surveillance cameras. The town had agreed to do that.