If bus shelter cameras stay off, no problem: privacy commissioner’s office

No law governing installation of inactive cameras in public spaces

Cameras at Vancouver bus shelters are covered up while the B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner gathers facts to ensure no privacy violations have occurred.

“If the cameras were covered up, we wouldn’t proceed further,” commissioner’s office director of policy Caitlin Lemiski  said. “It’s not a formal investigation.”

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The presence of the cameras was noticed last week  at downtown shelters with digital ad signage capabilities. The eye-level cameras are not switched on or enabled, the company operating them said in a statement provided by the city.

“We have taken steps this weekend to cover the cameras on these units and trust that this information and the covering of the cameras will alleviate any concerns,” said a statement from Outlook and JCDecaux, which has yet to return requests for comment from Glacier Media made Sept. 6.

City communications manager Ellie Lambert said the city signed a 20-year agreement with the Outlook-JCDecaux partnership in 2004 to provide street furniture in exchange for advertising revenues.

TransLink has no responsibility for the street furniture and was not notified of the cameras’ presence, transit officials have said.

Lambert said the city takes privacy matters seriously and that the company is required to comply with local, provincial and federal regulations.

And that’s what the commissioner’s office has been looking at.

“We reached out to the public body involved,” Lemiski said, noting that if a member of the public complains that the pledge to deal with the situation is not followed through on, the commissioner’s office would examine the situation.

The companies’ statement said the camera lenses on the panels are governed by a factory setting that is not functional or enabled and that the cameras would remain non-operational.

Lemiski said there are no obligations for such a camera’s owner if it is not operational, no laws that govern the installation of a camera.

Further, TransLink has no responsibilities in the situation, she said.

“It’s pretty black and white under provincial legislation,” she said. “They don’t control these spaces. They are not responsible.”

However, if the cameras were operational, a person could apply to the company under the Personal Information Protection Act to see the images. If the company were collecting information on behalf of the city, then a person would apply under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act.

If the requests were not followed through on, the commissioner’s office would look into it, Lemiski said.

Moreover, an operational camera would put an onus on the operator to inform the public of their presence.

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca
@jhainswo

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