FC: Canada's privacy czar: Cops must "cease" video surveillance

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Tue Mar 19 2002 - 21:11:12 PST

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    Previous Politech message:
    "Canada's privacy commish: Video surveillance a 'threat' to privacy"
    Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002 22:25:50 -0500
    From: Robert Guerra <rguerraat_private>
    To: declanat_private
    Subject: Re: video surveillance in Canada (fwd)
    ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
    Date: Friday, March 15, 2002 7:42 PM +0000
    From: John Spence <spence_johngat_private>
    Subject: Radwanski to MacAuley re: video surveillance
    The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, today sent the
    following letter to the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Solicitor General of
    Canada, regarding video surveillance by the RCMP
        OTTAWA, March 15 /CNW/ - The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George
    Radwanski, today sent the following letter to the Honourable Lawrence
    MacAulay, Solicitor General of Canada, regarding video surveillance by the
        Dear Minister MacAulay:
        I am writing to formally request your assistance in the following
        On October 4, 2001, I issued the finding of my investigation regarding a
    Privacy Act complaint about the RCMP's use of a video surveillance camera
    on a public street in Kelowna, B.C.
        In the finding, I made clear that while the RCMP had brought itself into
    technical compliance with the letter of the Privacy Act during the course of
    my investigation by ceasing its continuous recording through the camera, it
    was still violating the spirit and intent of the Act by maintaining
    24-hour-a- day surveillance through the camera without recording.
        As I stated in my finding, "the very presence of video cameras, whether
    they are recording at any given moment or not, is what creates the privacy-
    destroying sense of being observed...The level and quality of privacy in our
    country risks being struck a crippling, irrevocable blow if we allow
    ourselves to become subjected to constant, unrelenting surveillance and
    observation through the lens of proliferating video cameras controlled by
    the police or any other agents of the state."
        I therefore recommended that to be appropriately respectful of the
    privacy rights of Canadians, the RCMP should immediately cease this video
    surveillance and dismantle the camera. A copy of my letter of finding is
    enclosed herewith for your convenience.
        The RCMP has flatly refused to heed my recommendation.
        This is highly unusual and deeply disturbing. There is well-established
    precedent that when the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, as the Officer of
    Parliament mandated to oversee privacy rights, recommends a course of action
    to come into compliance with the spirit - not just the letter - of privacy
    law, federal institutions comply. As just two recent examples, I would cite
    the dismantling of the HRDC Longitudinal Labour Force file and the modified
    approach to the opening by CCRA customs agents of letter mail on behalf of
    Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
        The RCMP's behavior in this instance is particularly unacceptable for
    three additional reasons.
        First, there is no evidence that this dramatic new intrusion on privacy
    is necessary. Crime rates in Kelowna, as in all of Canada, have been
    steadily declining - not increasing - for the past five years. Nor has any
    evidence been adduced of an exceptionally serious and urgent crime
    situation in Kelowna that this camera was needed to address.
        Second, there is absolutely no evidence that video surveillance cameras
    on public streets are effective in reducing or deterring crime. I asked the
    Commissioner of the RCMP for statistical evidence as to the effectiveness of
    the Kelowna camera after it had been in place for eight months. He was
    unable to produce any data whatsoever, even though this was supposed to be
    a pilot project. London, England, has more street surveillance cameras than
    any other city in the Western world, last year it had more such cameras
    than any preceding year - and last year in London, street crime went up 40
    per cent.     And, finally, the RCMP - of all federal institutions - should
    as the national police force be exemplary in showing the maximum respect
    possible for the fundamental human right of privacy.
        As the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association stated in its
    February 22 letter to you on this subject: "After all, the motto of the RCMP
    is 'Maintain the Right,' not 'Skirt around the Right'...If Canadians are
    going to be asked to sacrifice their freedom for greater security and
    safety (in the aftermath of September 11), then the least we must expect
    from the police is that they will respect our privacy to the greatest
    extent possible. The use of video surveillance in public places defies this
    reasonable expectation."     Based on all these considerations, I am hereby
    formally requesting that you exercise your responsibilities as
    Solicitor-General and instruct the Commissioner of the RCMP to comply with
    my finding and recommendation by immediately dismantling the existing
    camera in Kelowna and refraining from any further such initiatives.
        This request is of the greatest urgency because the current plan calls
    for the RCMP to install another five video surveillance cameras on the
    streets of Kelowna in the course of this month. Since I first brought this
    matter to your personal attention in an informal meeting on January 25, I
    am hopeful that there need be no further delay required for you to look
    into it.     I note that you expressed some preliminary thoughts on this
    issue in a CBC radio interview on March 2. Since the approach you took
    would not, in my view, satisfactorily dispose of the matter, I would like
    at this time to address the substance of the points you made in that
        First, you stated: "In fact, the person that would take the camera down
    would be the Attorney General of British Columbia. The RCMP are operating
    under provincial jurisdiction in the ...a contract position. I'm not trying
    to escape the issue, but in fact that's who would, if there was a decision
    like that to make."
        This is not correct.
        Article 3.1(a) of the Municipal Policing Agreement between the Province
    of British Columbia and the Government of Canada, dated April 1, 1992,
        "The internal management of each of the Municipal Police Services,
        including its administration and the determination and application of
        professional police procedures, shall remain under the control of
        The RCMP's own document, Provincial Police Services Agreement:
    Interpretation and Administrative Procedures, 1995, states at page 19:
        "The scope of ministerial (Solicitor General of Canada) direction of the
        internal management of the RCMP is qualified only by the independence
        from interference that is due to the police in the legal exercise of
        their peace officer powers, on a case-by-case basis. With this
    exception,     and the accountability to the law that this exception
    entails, the RCMP     is, in all matters relating to management,
    accountable to the Solicitor     General who, in turn, is accountable to
    Parliament. The fact that the     RCMP Act places certain authority in the
    hands of the Commissioner does     not allow the Solicitor General to evade
    his responsibility for the     direction of the Force. Should matters of
    concern to the Solicitor     General arise with respect to administrative
    standards or procedures in     general, it is within his power to issue
    directives...The Solicitor     General of Canada is responsible to
    Parliament for ensuring that the RCMP     operates in conformity with the
        Indeed, the RCMP itself clearly accepts federal jurisdiction in this
    matter. That is why the British Columbia Information and Privacy
    Commissioner, David Loukidelis, had to make a complaint to me under the
    Privacy Act rather than deal with the issue himself. And it is why the RCMP
    resorted to the tactic of no longer recording continuously, to come into
    minimal technical compliance with the federal Act. If this video
    surveillance activity by the RCMP's own admission falls under the federal
    jurisdiction of the Privacy Act, then it also indisputably falls under your
    federal jurisdiction as Solicitor General, and the Attorney General of
    British Columbia has no role in this matter.
        I therefore respectfully submit that it you have the exclusive
    jurisdiction, and the responsibility, to direct the RCMP to comply with my
        Second, you stated in the CBC radio interview that "about 80 per cent,
    or 80-plus per cent of the people in this area want the camera there."
    In fact, this is not factually correct. The only source for this "80 per
    cent" figure, to which the RCMP makes frequent reference, is a single, very
    general question buried in a mail-in "Citizens Survey" conducted by the City
    of Kelowna. Only 997 of 2,500 questionnaires were returned, and the relevant
    question asked whether people agreed with the following statement:
    "Community safety cameras (approved by City Council and controlled by the
    RCMP) are an effective crime prevention tool."
        When I briefly visited Kelowna in February, I encountered a significant
    number of people who are quite concerned about the RCMP's use of the street
    surveillance camera. In any event, I am sure you would agree that a
    fundamental human right such as privacy cannot be abrogated in a community
    by majority opinion. And, of course, nothing in the Privacy Act suggests
    that recommendations of the Privacy Commissioner should be subject to
    approval by plebiscite or opinion polling before a federal institution must
    heed them.     Finally, you stated in the CBC interview that "it's been a
    difficult time since September 11 to juggle the rights and to make sure
    that we have the proper measures in place."
        As you know, I have said repeatedly since September 11 that privacy is
    not an absolute right and that it must be carefully balanced, on a case-by-
    case basis, against other vital societal needs such as security. But not
    even the RCMP or the mayor of Kelowna have tried to suggest that the
    Kelowna street camera is an anti-terrorist measure or in any way related to
    September 11, because to do so would be patently silly.
        The camera long pre-dates September 11. There is no indication that the
    streets of Kelowna are frequented by, or any interesting target for,
    international terrorists. And if New York City had had so many street
    surveillance cameras as to turn the whole city into a virtual TV studio,
    this would have done nothing to prevent the terrorists from hijacking
    airplanes and crashing them into the World Trade Centre.
        I consider this to be a matter of the greatest importance and urgency.
        If the RCMP is able to continue using street video surveillance in
    Kelowna even though it is unnecessary, in no way demonstrably effective
    against crime, and a grave threat to privacy rights, this will set the worst
    possible example for police forces across the country.
        As well, it is unacceptable, in terms of the effectiveness of Canada's
    privacy protection regime, that an important national institution such as
    the RCMP be able to cavalierly ignore the strongest possible recommendation
    from the Officer of Parliament mandated to oversee the privacy rights of
    Canadians.     I therefore respectfully request that you immediately direct
    the Commissioner of the RCMP to discontinue the video surveillance of public
    streets in Kelowna, in conformity with my finding and recommendation.
        Yours sincerely,
        George Radwanski
        Privacy Commissioner of Canada
    For further information: Anne-Marie Hayden, Media Relations, Office of
    the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Tel: (613) 995-0103,
    ahaydenat_private, www.privcom.gc.ca
    ---------- End Forwarded Message ----------
    Robert Guerra <rguerraat_private>
    Director , Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
    Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) is an
    organization that addresses the benefits and risks to society resulting
    from the use of computers.  For information, please visit
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