Smile, you’re on camera

Video is everywhere, but you have a right
to know about it

  • Apr. 6, 2012 1:00 p.m.
Big sign at Witch of Endor pub tells people they're on video.

Big sign at Witch of Endor pub tells people they're on video.

Big Brother is watching you – almost everywhere in Maple Ridge.

But often you don’t know it, although you should.

While federal and B.C. privacy laws require businesses to post signs telling the public if they’re being surveilled, it’s hit-and-miss when it comes to shops, cafés and places of business.

A quick tour through a local mall found five stores with video cameras, but only one had the required sign telling people they were being recorded, although it was posted inside the shop rather than at the entrance.

All of the four banks that line 224th Street in the downtown have signs at the entrance, warning of video surveillance. But only CIBC had a window decal that offered contact information for customers.

According to the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which governs banks, video advisory signs should include contact information for any one who has concerns.

But most private business are governed by B.C.’s Personal Information Protection Act, which only requires that signs explain that video is taking place.

The use of video surveillance has “exploded,” says B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The office says technology has reached the point where shopping behaviour can be monitored using facial recognition technology. Walk into a store and you soon could be greeted by name, pitching tailor-made products just like the movie Minority Report.

“It’s just become more and more prevalent every day, because it’s so economical to do it,” said Mike Morden, with ASC Professional Security Services.

It’s now possible to get a video camera for under $100 that can transmit to a hard drive, then to a website and allow a business owner to monitor it remotely, added Morden, also a councillor for the District of Maple Ridge.

However, many businesses seem oblivious to the requirement to tell people they’re on camera.

According to a January survey of Vancouver and Victoria downtown businesses by the Privacy Commissioner office, only three per cent of the businesses were following the rules.

Under the Personal Information Protection Act, patrons have to be told they’re being filmed and have to be allowed to see the images if they ask. And there also has to be good reason for doing the videoing, says commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

And there has to be a good reason to start filming, such as monitoring a possible theft area, in the first place.

For Morden, all businesses should post signs telling people they’re on camera.

It’s just a win-win to do so, he adds.

“From both standpoints, the public has a right to know that you are recording. I think that’s fair.”

Better security and deterrence are two reasons for that, he added.

However, there are no signs outside, or inside, the Maple Ridge Community Gaming Centre telling people they’re on camera.

But Great Canadian Entertainment Centres spokesman Howard Blank said that by entering the centre “it’s common knowledge that there are cameras present.” Video cameras are also posted on at least two exterior corners of the centre. Blank said almost all of their properties have signs informing customers about cameras.

The company is looking at using facial-recognition technology where cameras will detect those who’ve signed up for voluntary self-exclusion programs because of problem gambling.

Outside the Witch of Endor Pub however, a huge sign welcomes patrons, “Smile, you are on camera: Area under 24-hour surveillance.”

At Save-On Foods in Valley Fair Mall a sign posted before people enter the store tells them they’re on video.

Maple Ridge’s youth centre has signs posted on its exterior walls indicating “Closed Circuit Camera On Premises.”

However, there’s no sign outside Maple Ridge’s Leisure Centre, until patrons walk past cameras on the outside door and up to the reception desk where a sign warns the public video cameras are rolling.

While video technology is  may be improving, some businesses find it too much of a bother, says Ineke Boekhorst, executive-director with the Downtown Business Improvement Association.

“I think a lot of them have just given up on it.”

“It’s very costly,” she added. And often the expensive cameras and monitors used to enhance security becomes a major attraction to the thieves.

“It becomes a target because these things are then stolen.”

The BIA considered installing video cameras on some downtown streets, said Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse, who used to be on the committee.

But they gave on that idea because of concerns about privacy, whether any evidence would hold up in court and who would operate it. A major concern was that the cameras could be used to track down people wanted by police.

“It never got a whole bunch of traction.”

Morden agrees that getting convictions in court based on a video is rare because it’s too easy to inject reasonable doubt about the identity of the culprit. The defence can argue that person on camera isn’t the one who is in court but is just a similar-looking person.

“Video evidence alone is very difficult.”

B.C. Privacy Commissioner spokesperson Cara McGregor points out, as soon as a business videotapes someone and captures their image, that information becomes subject to the Personal Information Protection Act.

“The bottom line” says McGregor, is that private and public entities using video surveillance must tell people, she says.

That sign has to be visible before people enter the premises. Contact information must also be included on signs for public buildings, while private businesses just have to provide details on request.

“It is not sufficient to post a notice inside your place of business – for example, signs that says:

“Smile, you’re on candid camera.”

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