PDF Version: Privacy and Video Surveillance on Campus
With thanks to Greg Hagen for his helpful suggestions on a draft of the blog.
Because it is an educational body (“local public body”), the University is governed by Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. F-25 (“FOIPA”). As evidenced by its title, this legislation deals with access to information held by public bodies and protection of our privacy when dealing with such bodies. In general, privacy legislation regulates the collection, storage, disclosure and disposal of personal information. “Personal information” includes “recorded information about an identifiable individual”. Video surveillance can fit this description.
Video surveillance by businesses would be subject to either the Personal Information Protection Act, S.A., 2003, c.-6.5 (“PIPA”) or the federal Protection of Information and Electronics Document Act, S.C. 2000, c. 5. In Alberta, non-profit organizations are subject to the PIPA only if they are engaged in commercial activities.
The overarching principle regarding video surveillance is that it should be used only for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances. Generally, in order to limit the impact on privacy, cameras should be positioned to avoid capturing the images of people not being targeted and they should not be used in areas where people have a heightened expectation of privacy, such as a washroom or through a building’s windows.
Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Frank Work, issued comments on the use of public surveillance systems. He said that the public must have notice. This reflects the wording of the FOIPA, which requires consent be given to the collection of personal information, except in specified circumstances. In asking colleagues and students who frequent the University, my rough survey indicates that the University may not necessarily be compliant with the notice requirement. No one was aware of spotting a sign indicating there is video surveillance on campus.
Additionally, the Information and Privacy Commissioner indicates that even where the surveillance system is found to be justified, there must be policies in place addressing:
- • the number and placement of the cameras,
- • control of access to information gathered through the use of surveillance measures, and
- • adequate retention and disposition schedules.
The Video Surveillance Policy indicates that the purpose of the CCTV system is to “discourage unlawful or anti-social behaviour of individuals on university premises”. It is also used to “apprehend and prosecute offenders” (art. 4.1). The policy says that surveillance cameras are situated in “identified public areas” and will not monitor areas where individuals have a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. In addition, cameras will not be used to see into licensed drinking establishments on campus, or directed at windows of private offices, residences or properties neighbouring the University (art. 4.3). Also, signs showing that the CCTV system is in operation will be visible to employees, students and people visiting the campus (art. 4.4). Video monitors are kept in a controlled access area and recorded images from the CCTV system are securely stored (art. 4.6). The policy also addresses when the recorded images may be used, disclosed, accessed, deleted, and retained.
The Campus Security Website indicates that there are 45 CCTV cameras on campus—14 exterior cameras on buildings or in parking lots and 31 interior cameras mounted inside buildings.
What can or must the University do if it is aware that a student group (not University Staff) may be violating the Video Surveillance and Privacy Policies while on campus? First, one would have to establish that the individuals in the group would be subject to the University’s privacy policies. Second, one would have to determine what the obligations of the University are in relation to people who may be violating their policies.
Assuming the University could not be liable for the actions of the students, do people who are being videotaped by members of the group have any remedies under privacy law? It is unlikely that the PIPA would apply because the individuals involved were probably not an “organization” or individuals acting in a commercial capacity. Thus, individuals who were videotaped without notice or consent would be left to rely on common law or statutory protections of individual privacy. Alberta does not have any general statutory privacy law outside of the FOIPA and the PIPA. However, some provinces have recognized a common law tort of invasion of privacy. It is not well developed in Alberta and there is doubt as to whether a Canadian common law court would recognize a right to privacy in an unsecluded public place. Arguably there would be little reasonable expectation of privacy on the public parts of a university campus, where the display was held and the videotaping was done.