The Federal, British Columbia and Alberta Privacy Commissioners have jointly issued new Guidelines for the use of video surveillance by private sector organizations. While recognizing that there are legitimate reasons for private sector organizations to use video surveillance techniques, the Commissioners note that privacy laws impose restrictions on the collection and use and disclosure of personal information, and that video surveillance involves the collection of personal information.

The Guidelines are directed to organizations subject to the Personal Information Protection and ‘Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which applies to organizations carrying out commercial activities in all provinces except BC, Alberta and Quebec; to all organizations carrying out commercial activities where personal information is transmitted across an international or provincial border, no matter where the organization is located; and to the employment relationship between federally regulated organizations such as banks, airlines and railway companies and their employees. The Guidelines are also directed to organizations that are subject to the BC and Alberta Personal Information Protection Acts.

Under these legislative regimes, the key legal test for the collection, use or disclosure of personal information is that these should be reasonable in the circumstances and only permissible with the consent of the individual involved.

The Guidelines list ten factors to consider when considering using video surveillance and when implementing a video surveillance plan:

  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 purposes.
  7. Be ready to answer questions from the public. Individuals have the right to know who is watching them and why, as well as 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 about the obligation to protect the privacy of individuals.
  10. Periodically evaluate the need for video surveillance.

The Guidelines also discuss a number of other issues relating to video surveillance through a series of Questions and Answers.

The full text of the Guidelines can be found on the websites of the Privacy Commissioners: www.privcom.gc.ca/ (Federal); www.oipcbc.org (BC); and www.oipc.ab.ca (Alberta).