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Privacy commissioner warns of the dangers of video surveillance

The Yukon's privacy commissioner has put out guidelines for government departments considering surveillance cameras.

The Yukon’s privacy commissioner has put out guidelines for government departments considering surveillance cameras.

Diane McLeod-McKay said she prepared the document after receiving multiple requests from departments asking about video surveillance policies they’re developing.

McLeod-McKay isn’t saying which departments have been asking for her help. But she says the privacy implications of video cameras are important to consider even before any equipment is installed.

“Is this benefit to be gained significantly more important than the rights to privacy? I think that all too often video surveillance is being used without that assessment,” she said.

The guidelines warn that just because cameras may be cheaper, that doesn’t mean that they’re always the right choice.

“Cost saving or ease of use is not reason enough to use video surveillance over other forms of surveillance, such as foot patrols,” it says.

“Only after other less privacy-intrusive means of surveillance have been considered and determined unworkable and it has been determined that there is a compelling need to use video surveillance should it be considered as an option.”

Once a public body has decided that video surveillance is the way to go, officials need to prove the collection, use and disclosure of the personal information comply with the Yukon’s Access to Information and Personal Privacy Act.

Technically there is no law in the Yukon against installing surveillance cameras. But the ATIPP Act sets out when government can gather personal information.

Legally, there are only three situations where collection of personal information is allowed.

The first is if legislation clearly and expressly allows the cameras. The second is if the information is being collected “for the purpose of law enforcement.”

Lastly, collecting information is possible if “that information relates to and is necessary for carrying out a program or activity of the public body.”

While the first two options are fairly simple to define, it’s that “necessary” question that could be the focus of an investigation if a Yukoner were to complain about surveillance cameras.

Privacy commissioners across the country have dealt with the issue of when cameras are “necessary,” McLeod-McKay said. Usually if there is a less invasive tool available it’s ruled the cameras didn’t meet that threshold.

“What we’re talking about here is a very privacy-invasive tool to collect personal information,” she said.

So far there haven’t been any investigations by the Yukon’s privacy commissioner that set a precedent for using surveillance cameras in the territory, McLeod-McKay said.

“If people have concerns that their personal information is being collected inappropriately by video surveillance, they can certainly come to my office and make a complaint,” she said.

Currently, the Department of Justice is in the process of installing new cameras in its main building on Second Avenue.

The building actually has two different functions, with the courts one side and the Department of Justice offices on the other.

Staff is in the process of replacing the out-of-date analogue cameras that have been in place since the building opened.

“For the department there are 71 cameras in place with a control room for them in the building,” spokesperson Dan Cable said.

“They have not been fully commissioned yet and we are in the process of completing a privacy impact assessment and doing policy and procedures for them but this is not yet complete.”

As for the side of the building with court, Cable said there are far fewer cameras there, since courtrooms and judges’ chambers take up most of the space.

Contact Ashley Joannou at