Northern Exposure

New Top 10 Rules for Video Surveillance in Canada

By Barbara A.  McIsaac and Rachel Ravary
McCarthy Tetrault

By now, we all know that video surveillance of employees is a touchy subject and should be used only as a last resort. But when you’ve examined all of the alternatives and have come to the conclusion that no other solution will do, we can at least give you some guidance on how to do it right.

Recently, the Federal, British Columbia, and Alberta Privacy Commissioners got together to issue new guidelines for the use of video surveillance.

Who is covered under the guidelines? Well, technically, they apply to all federally regulated employers such as banks, railways, air transportation, and inter-provincial trucking companies, as well as employers in British Columbia and Alberta. That being said, the guidelines are general rules that can and should be considered no matter what Canadian jurisdiction you’re operating in.

The guidelines set out a top 10 list of factors to consider when deciding whether to use video surveillance and when putting your video surveillance plan in place. Remember that under most provinces’ privacy laws, as well as the federal law, the rule is that personal information cannot be collected, used, or disclosed unless it’s reasonable in the circumstances, and even then, only with the consent of the individual involved. In Québec, the standard is a little higher and requires that the information be necessary.

Here is our summary of the guidelines.

Top 10 guidelines for video surveillance
Consider the alternatives. Before you resort to video surveillance, consider whether you can achieve your goal with a less invasive alternative.

2. Set the ground rules. Develop a policy on the use of video surveillance.

3. State your purpose. Narrow down the specific business reason for using video surveillance – and use it only for that reason.

4. Don’t go overboard. Limit the use and viewing range of cameras as much as possible.

5. Smile! You’re on camera. Inform your employees – and the public if the camera is in a public area – that video surveillance is taking place.

6. Guard the evidence. 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 transparent. Be ready to answer questions from employees or the public. They have the right to know who is watching them, why, what is being recorded, and what is being done with recorded images.

8. Hand it over. Give individuals access to information about themselves. This includes video images.

9. Train your people. Educate camera operators about the obligation to protect the privacy of those who are being filmed.

10. Re-evaluate. On a regular basis, reconsider whether you still need video surveillance.

The guidelines also offer some practical tips for setting up your video surveillance system to collect the minimum amount of information necessary to be effective. For instance:

  • Have cameras record for only limited periods in the day rather than having them on continuously. Even better, if you’re targeting a specific problem – such as theft by a particular employee or in a particular area – only turn the camera on when the targeted activity is suspected or observed.
  • Try to position cameras to avoid capturing images of individuals who aren’t being targeted.
  • Don’t put cameras in places where people have a heightened expectation of privacy, for example, washrooms or into windows.
  • Make sure that your system doesn’t allow camera operators to manipulate or reposition cameras to capture inappropriate images.
  • Sound should not be recorded unless there is a specific need to do so.

If you have questions about these guidelines or related issues, lawyers in McCarthy Tetrault’s Labour and Employment and Privacy groups can help you. We regularly advise clients on issues relating to various forms of employee surveillance and/or monitoring and compliance with federal and provincial privacy legislation.

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