Saturday, November 8, 2008

CCTV is not the best way to combat crime

British Columbia’s provincial government is planning to spend one million dollars on a pilot CCTV project to help combat crime in Vancouver, Kelowna and Surrey.

According to the province’s Solicitor General, John van Dongen:

Technologies such as CCTV can greatly assist the police and the prosecution in bringing offenders to justice. We believe CCTV can be an important tool in catching criminals and improving public safety.

If we look at the results of CCTV use in the U.K., van Dongen is vastly over-stating its effectiveness. The U.K. began experimenting with CCTV in the 1970’s and its use has grown to more than 4 million cameras across the UK, or at least one for every 14 people. In 2002, it was estimated that the average London resident was captured on camera about 300 times per day. Since the mid-1990’s billions of pounds have been spent on CCTV technology in the UK.

Yet, despite all this, a recent report from New Scotland Yard indicated that only about 3% of crimes were solved by the use of CCTV. Furthermore, a report by the Home Office in 2002, which reviewed 18 other studies on the effectiveness of CCTV, found just a 4% overall reduction in crime when CCTV cameras were used.

Given these results, the evidence tells us that the return on investment with CCTV is far too low to warrant the expense. One study indicates that there would have been a greater reduction in crime if those billions of pounds had been spent on more cops walking the beat. Jonathan Klick, a law professor at Florida State University, and Alexander Tabarrok of George Mason University, studied the increased police presence in key areas of Washington D.C. during high terror alert days and found a 15 percent reduction in crime.

The added and less quantifiable cost of CCTV is the loss of privacy to citizens and the negative impact on civil liberties. B.C.’s Solicitor General said he intended to work with the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner “to establish clear rules for the collection, management and protection of information from the cameras.” However, Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis said he learned about the program a mere fifteen minutes before the news conference announcing the CCTV pilot project.

BC residents and politicians who are concerned about crime and public safety should advocate for more police officers, community policing programs and proven crime prevention measures (such as improved lighting) instead of throwing away millions in tax dollars in the creation of a surveillance society.

Related posts:

Smile, You're on Candid Camera

Cops Want Covert Cameras in Public Places

Homeland Security's Chertoff: more surveillance, less privacy

Saturday, October 25, 2008

PIPEDA: Guidelines for Covert Video Surveillance

  • A manager at a railway company uses the zoom lens on cameras, installed for the purpose of monitoring train movements, to watch two employees leaving company property during regular working hours without permission.
  • An employee with a history of work-related injuries over a period of several years refuses to cooperate with his employer’s efforts to accommodate him or to provide current information to support his disability claim. His employer hires a private investigation firm to conduct covert video surveillance to observe the employee for a period of two weeks to determine if he indeed had the physical limitations he was claiming.
  • A transportation company hires a private investigation firm to conduct surveillance on an employee suspected of violating the company’s Conflict of Interest Policy by having a romantic relationship with a colleague. While the employee under investigation was the target of the surveillance, images were also covertly captured of the colleague and alleged romantic partner.

Which of the above scenarios are in violation of PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act)? *

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has prepared a draft guidance document that sets out good practice rules for private sector organizations that are either contemplating or using covert video surveillance.

The guidelines also include the test used by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to determine whether an organization may properly rely on covert video surveillance:

1. The collection of personal information must only be for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances.

2. There should be substantial evidence to support the suspicion that:

  • the relationship of trust between the organization and an individual has been broken;
  • there has been a breach of an agreement; or,
  • a law has been contravened.

3. Covert surveillance is a last resort and should only be contemplated if all other less privacy-invasive means of collecting personal information have been exhausted.

4. The collection of personal information must be limited to the stated purposes to the greatest extent possible.

Feedback on the draft guidance will be received until November 14, 2008. The Privacy Commissioner is particularly interested in comments from those directly affected by covert video surveillance, including unions representing employees of federally regulated organizations as well as consumer associations.

*Only the scenario in the first bullet was found to be in violation of PIPEDA.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Private eye Steve Rambam: Privacy is dead

Private investigator Steve Rambam has worked on a number of high-profile cases in his 25 year career, including tracking down Nazi war criminals in Canada. In a recent interview with Computerworld, Rambam discusses PallTech, his investigative database service with more than 25 billion records on U.S. citizens and businesses.

PallTech claims to have “ pretty much every American's name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, telephone number, personal relationships, businesses, motor vehicles, driver's licenses, bankruptcies, liens, judgments -- I could go on and on”

If the fact that PallTech has amassed this much specific information on almost every American isn’t troubling enough, there are two other disturbing issues raised in the interview. The first is the apparent lack of security or oversight of the sensitive data. When asked who has access to the data and how it is safeguarded, Rambam replies:

This is a database that's restricted to law enforcement, private investigators, security directors of companies and people who have a genuine need. … The most restrictive rule is my own personal ethics. In 20 years, we haven't had a single lawsuit or complaint.

The second troubling issue is how the data is being contributed:

The other thing is the mind-boggling level of self-contributed data. The average person now willingly puts on the Internet personal information about himself that 20 years ago people would hire an investigator to try and get. It's extraordinary. If you know how to use the Internet, 75% of an investigation can be conducted sitting in your pajamas.

Rambam feels that people have no reason to fear that PallTech will abuse their personal information, as they are “more accountable” than the US government: “You can sue us; you can subpoena us. You can hold us to task if we do something improper. Not so the U.S. government.”

Rambam is a proponent of public access to information, in order to prevent government abuse. In an earlier post, I mentioned David Brin’s book The Transparent Society , which discusses the illusion of privacy and advocates making most information available to everyone to ensure greater transparency and accountability.

Will information remain private and "secret", or are we on a path to making it open and public?

Monday, October 6, 2008

October is Public Library Month in British Columbia

According to B.C. Library Association executive director Alane Wilson, more than 98 per cent of British Columbians live in an area that is served by a public library, and this year's theme for Library Month -"Your Library, Your World" - reflects the many ways in which libraries contribute to the fabric of B.C.'s education, culture and community.

While the following video focuses on Seattle Public Library, the message about the library's role in society is true on both sides of the border:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

“Radical Pragmatism” : Privacy by design

Privacy protection must be built into new technologies right from inception, according to Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian.

In a paper she delivered yesterday at the University of Waterloo, entitled “Privacy and Radical Pragmatism: Change the Paradigm “, Cavoukian argues that enhancing surveillance and security in society does not need to be at the expense of privacy. Instead, Cavoukian advocates that "privacy-enhancing technologies" can be used to counter privacy-invading tools such as biometrics, RFID (radio-frequency identification tags) and video surveillance:

By adopting a positive-sum paradigm and applying a privacy-enhancing technology to an otherwise surveillance technology, you can develop, what I am now calling, a “Transformative Technology” – transformative because you can in effect, transform the privacy-invasive features of a given technology into privacy-protective ones. Among other things, transformative technologies can literally transform technologies normally associated with surveillance into ones that are no longer exclusively privacy-invasive in nature.

In an interview with IT World, David Fewer from CIPPIC says that a lot of work still needs to be done to get the private sector on-board:

Privacy enhancing technologies are often viewed as a cost by major corporations. It will likely be the role of statutes such as PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) and other … privacy laws to push companies toward investing in these privacy-enhancing technologies.

“As of now, industries will only be forced to do it when faced with an obligation to do so by regulators or when they make some kind of mistake in the marketplace and are forced to implement these technologies by some kind of legal action,” Fewer said.”

Image by Kevin Dooley

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tasteless Twittering: Newspaper tweets details of child’s funeral

The decision by the Rocky Mountain News to broadcast continuous, live updates to Twitter of the details of the funeral of a three-year old boy has caused a storm of controversy among ethicists, journalists and bloggers.

Twitter, for the uninitiated, is a social networking service that uses instant messaging to allow users to share information about what they are doing at any given moment. Updates, known as “tweets” are displayed on the sender’s page and automatically sent to subscribers.

Most Twitter users share the mundane details of everyday life, answering the question “What are you doing now?” Lisa Reichelt, on her disambiguity blog, refers to this as “ambient intimacy”:

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. … There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like.

One benefit of twittering is that updates can be made frequently, facilitating uses such as marketing, micro-blogging, networking and breaking news. You can track Barack Obama on the campaign trail, follow TechCrunch’s blog updates, stay up-to-date with NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander or catch breaking news from the CBC. Twitter has also been used to share the blow-by-blow account of a couple’s argument or even to offer a proposal of marriage.

Given the broad spectrum of information that can be shared via Twitter, what then, is the etiquette? What is appropriate twittering and what is taboo? In the case of the funeral for three year-old car crash victim Marten Kudlis, many believe the good taste envelope was pushed to the limit. Reporter Berny Morsen’s play-by-play of the toddler’s funeral seemed voyeuristic and lacking in the reverence one would expect from newspaper coverage of such an event.

While shocking, it is simply a more extreme example of how the use of technologies such as Twitter is blurring the line between what is public and what should be private.

20th century etiquette expert Emily Post noted that: “People who talk too easily are apt to talk too much, and at times imprudently”. The need to feed Twitter followers with a steady stream of updates, coupled with the immediacy of the technology, encourages users to post before thinking.

Margaret Mason, contributor for The Morning News, perhaps says it best: “What’s rude in life is rude on Twitter.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Google Responds to Privacy Concerns with Chrome

Google plans to anonymize the IP addresses and cookies that track users when they enter search terms or URLs into Google’s new browser, Chrome.

Privacy advocates have been concerned about the potential of the browser to allow Google even more ability to track users’ online habits and develop extensive user profiles.

Electronic Frontier Foundation technologist Peter Eckersley says: “We're worried that Chrome will be another giant conveyer belt moving private information about our use of the Web into Google's data vaults. Google already knows far too much about what everybody is thinking at any given moment."

Google also plans to anonymize user IP addresses nine months after they have been collected.

Regulators and policymakers have been scrutinizing Google’s privacy practices for the past year, and this seems to be yet another example of the company’s lack of attention to privacy and failure to fully disclose how data will be used.

Image by Randy Zhang

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Privacy Mode Planned for IE8

Internet Explorer 8, due for release later this year, will incorporate a private browsing feature. According to CNET, Microsoft registered two trademarks in July which point to privacy functionality in the browser - ClearTracks and Inprivate:

The Cleartracks trademark involves "computer programs for deleting search history after accessing Web sites," according to the Microsoft filing. And the Inprivate trademark involves "computer programs for disabling the history and file caching features of a Web browser; and computer software for notifying a user of a Web browser when others are tracking Web use and for controlling the information others can access about such use."

Mac's Safari already has a private browsing mode while Firefox's PrivateBrowsing is
in development. With all three, private browsing is envisioned as a temporary mode, that users will need to switch on at times when they do not want to leave behind a search trail.

Photo by: Sunside

Monday, February 18, 2008

Canada's Privacy Commissioner on Social Networking

This video, from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, wants users of social networks to pause and ask themselves the following questions before posting personal information online:

  • What judgments or conclusions might others form with my information?
  • Are there some details about my life I would like to keep personal?
  • Who might view or purchase this information about me?
  • Will this information reflect well on me a year from now? Five years?
  • Would I want my best friend to know this?
  • Would I want my boss to know this?
  • Would I want my mom to know this?

For more information, visit the website of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tracking Transience: Hasan Elahi's Life is an Open Book

In 2002, Hasan Elahi was detained at the Detroit airport when his name had mistakenly been added to the FBI’s terrorist watch list. An art professor at Rutgers University, it took six months of interrogation and nine lie detector tests before Elahi’s name was cleared.

In order to ensure that he wouldn’t be detained again, Elahi, a frequent traveller, began to routinely contact the FBI to advise them of his travel plans. He then decided to create Tracking Transience, a website where he uses time-stamped digital photos to track his own whereabouts. In addition to providing his location throughout the day by posting aerial photographs from Google Earth, he has uploaded his cell phone logs and even his bank statements to the site.

Why? Elahi’s intent is to explore the meaning of identity in an era of surveillance. While Tracking Transience robs him of his personal privacy, it also provides him with a running alibi, should he ever be falsely accused again. For his next project, he plans to post his own genome.

While Elahi’s website may seem radical, the reality is that many people are providing just as much personal information on the Internet in only slightly less overt ways. Whether twittering the details of your every waking moment, posting home videos onto MySpace, updating your Facebook status, paying your credit card online or making a purchase on E-Bay, all of these details could potentially be mined to form a clear picture of your identity.

Instead of looking over his shoulder and worrying that Big Brother is watching him, Elahi has placed himself under constant surveillance.

Photo by mikey_k on Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic

Saturday, January 26, 2008

January 28th is Data Privacy Day

The IAPP (International Association of Privacy Professionals) has declared January 28, 2008 "Data Privacy Day", in an effort to encourage privacy professionals to give presentations at schools, colleges and universities next week on the importance of privacy.

To assist privacy professionals in their goal, the IAPP is providing some free materials, including a slideshow and handouts on teens and social networking: worthwhile reading for many parents too!

If you're a privacy professional, educator or just concerened about privacy awareness, you may want to consider using these for your own presentation or as a springboard for discussion.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fair Copyright for Canada

Michael Geist is spearheading a movement on Facebook to raise awareness about the Canadian government's plans to introduce new copyright legislation that is expected to cave in to U.S. government and lobbyist demands:
The new Canadian legislation will likely mirror the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act with strong anti-circumvention legislation that goes far beyond what is needed to comply with the World Intellectual Property Organization's Internet treaties. Moreover, it will not address the issues that concern millions of Canadians. For example, the Conservatives' promise to eliminate the private copying levy will likely be abandoned. There will be no flexible fair dealing. No parody exception. No time shifting exception. No device shifting exception. No expanded backup provision. Nothing that focuses on the issues of the ordinary Canadian.

Instead, the government will choose locks over learning, property over privacy, enforcement over education, (law)suits over security, lobbyists over librarians, and U.S. policy over a "Canadian-made" solution.

The Facebook group has grown to nearly 40,000 members and is garnering lots of media attention in Canada.

Geist, Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, talks more about what's at stake with this proposed legislation in this CBC interview: