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The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has prepared a draft guidance document that sets out good practice rules for private sector organizations that are either contemplating or using covert video surveillance.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Feedback on the draft guidance will be received until November 14, 2008.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.

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