Say cheese and smile, because if you’re reading this in public, chances are you’re on camera. The use of video surveillance is on the rise and the privacy commissioner says you should be concerned.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, you’re being watched. Well maybe that’s extreme, but the province’s Privacy Commissioner Ed Ring says in most public places, the cameras are rolling.
Video surveillance is a tool used by private and public organizations to protect property and keep people safe, but Ring says it can also cause serious harm.
“The notion of vendors providing a picture of someone’s image that they believe could have been involved in a robbery, for example, and then the individual’s image is all over the Internet. Once those images are out there, the damage has been done. You’re guilty in the eyes of public opinion and in fact, you may not be guilty at all.”
Ring says when private business owners share surveillance videos online, they can go viral, fast. Take the infamous pizza skeets, for example. Four women were caught on surveillance video stealing money from a local pizza joint while staff were busy in the kitchen. The restaurant owner decided to play cop and posted the video on social media hoping to identify the women. His video was shared thousands of times and within ten minutes of the initial post, tips started rolling in. The women were arrested and charged.
And it’s not only surveillance cameras people need to be concerned about. Anyone who owns a smart phone can be recording when you least expect it. “I think it’s a culture shift with the proliferation of technology. The size of the cameras now, they could be anywhere”, Ring says.
He adds people need to take their right to privacy seriously because when it comes to surveillance in private businesses, there’s not a lot Ring can do to protect people. “Our office oversees public bodies and all government departments and agencies and all municipalities. We have no jurisdiction over private businesses.”
Ring says in some cases, people have no idea they’re being recorded and that’s an invasion of privacy. His office recently set out guidelines to help business owners use surveillance video responsibly.
“You need to look at what the balance would be in trying to provide the level of security that video surveillance would provide as opposed to how intrusive it would be on individuals’ privacy.”
Ring says despite the increase in video surveillance, people don’t seem to be concerned about a lack of privacy. He says most people are okay with being recorded because they’re not doing anything wrong.
“If you’re not behaving in a manner that could be considered criminal, you’re kind of abdicating your right to privacy which I find very strange. They’re saying it’s not important…they’re giving up their right to privacy.”
Ring says people don’t realize what they’re sacrificing. “It’s a shame because many people for a long time have strived to have the right to privacy recognized as a fundamental right and I personally believe it is. I think we need to try to make individuals aware that their privacy is important not just today but for decades down the road.”