Surveillance cameras’ value as deterrents to criminal activity is well-known. However, in order for organizations to use video surveillance, certain requirements concerning reasonableness, consent, purpose and notice must be met.
In Alberta, use of video surveillance by private organizations is subject to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). Under PIPA, organizations such as corporations, associations and individuals acting in a commercial capacity, may not collect, use or disclose an individual’s personal information without the consent of the individual. This includes surveillance images of an identifiable individual.
The collection, use and disclosure of personal information can only be for reasonable purposes and only to the extent reasonably required to meet those purposes. Surveillance for the purpose of deterring crime and maintaining security in a building will likely meet this “reasonableness test” and relevant images could be used and disclosed in the event of an incident, such as property damage. However, irrelevant images containing personal information may not be used or disclosed.
PIPA requires that organizations obtain individuals’ consent for the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information. While an individual will typically provide consent in writing or orally, an individual may be deemed to consent to the collection, use or disclosure of their personal information where they voluntarily provide the information and it is reasonable that they would provide that information.
Practically, what this means is that organizations may be permitted to use surveillance cameras without obtaining an individual’s written or oral consent. This will depend largely on the intended purpose of the collection, use or disclosure and whether certain notice requirements have been met.
Purpose and Notice
When using video surveillance, notice must be provided before or at the time of collection. Such notice must set out the purposes for which the information is collected and the name of a representative who is able to answer questions on behalf of the organization about the collection. Signs with appropriate wording located at access points to the premises are typically sufficient to meet these requirements.
Importantly however, if an individual has been deemed to consent to the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information, it is not necessary to notify the individual of the purpose of the surveillance or organization’s representative. In order for consent to be deemed, the particular purpose of the surveillance must be reasonably understood. This will typically not be an issue where surveillance cameras are used for deterrence and security purposes.
Where the purpose is understood to be the deterrence of crime, notice that surveillance is taking place is likely still required. If there is notice or the individual is aware that there is surveillance, then by entering the premises, that individual is deemed to consent to the collection, use and disclosure of their images as they will have had the option of not entering the premises.
For example, if an individual chooses to visit a residential condominium despite having notice that surveillance is taking place on the premises, consent may be deemed and an explanation regarding the purpose of the surveillance would likely not be necessary. This is because the purpose of such surveillance would be reasonably understood to be the deterrence of theft, vandalism and criminal acts.
Conversely, if the reason for the surveillance is not clear from the location in which the surveillance occurs, then signs or other sufficient forms of notice, explaining why the surveillance is necessary will be required. This is because when the purpose of the surveillance is unclear, an individual cannot be deemed to consent.
For example, installing security cameras in a locker room at a workout facility in order to deter theft and vandalism would likely require a sign explaining why the surveillance is necessary because the purpose of the surveillance is not easily understood. Similarly, using the residential condominium example, those collected images could not be used for purposes unrelated to building security, such as for enforcing condo bylaws, if no explanation was provided because those purposes would not be clear in the circumstances.
In summary, while the use of surveillance cameras on commercial premises will likely be permitted under PIPA in order to deter crime and promote security, other purposes may not be permitted so organizations should exercise caution. Organizations should also consider whether a less privacy-invasive alternative is available.
If surveillance is used, the field of vision of the camera should be as limited in scope as possible, the camera should not be aimed at areas where there is a heightened expectation of privacy and sound should not be recorded if it is unnecessary. Organizations should also establish business reasons for conducting video surveillance and develop a policy on the use of video surveillance. Organizations should be aware that individuals can request to have access to their personal information as well.
Colin Lipsett is partner and Daniel Yereniuk is associate at Dentons Canada LLP based in Edmonton.