The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, applies to the BC Government and its agencies, and the Privacy Act (Canada) applies to the Government of Canada and its agencies.

Video Surveillance Guidelines for Federal Government Institutions

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada issued guidelines for the use of video surveillance by federal government institutions. Those guidelines state that:

  1. it should only be used to address a real, pressing and substantial problem, and where there no less privacy-invasive alternative;
  2. the impact on privacy should be assessed and public consultation completed, before video surveillance is used;
  3. video surveillance must be consistent with all applicable laws including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
  4. it should be carefully tailored to minimize the impact on privacy and excessive or unneccessry instrusions should be discouraged; and
  5. they should be subject to independent audit and evaluation.

The guidelines also say that the public should know that video surveillance is being used, and be advised that they will be under surveillance. The institution should have a written policy for the video surveillance which requires that fair information practices be respected when collecting, using, disclosing, retaining and destroying personal information. Under the policy individuals should have a right to access their personal information collected through video surveillance. The policy should require system operators to be trained to be privacy-sensitive, and the equipment and images should be securely protected with access on a need-to-know basis only.

Video Surveillance Guidelines for BC Government Bodies

In 2006, the Privacy Commissioner of B.C. issued Public Surveillance Systems Privacy Guidelines. The guidelines assist government agencies in deciding whether the use of a video, audio or other  surveillance system is both lawful and justifiable as a policy choice in the circumstances of the case. It also gives guidance on how to build privacy protection measures into the system.  The guidelines focus on surveillance in open public spaces (including streets, highways, parks) and public buildings (including government buildings, libraries, hospitals and educational institutions).

Although the guidelines are not legally enforceable, they are detailed and specific, and the Commissioner strongly urges government bodies to comply with them. Because these guidelines create a clear standard for government agencies to meet, it is reasonable to assume that a government body that cannot provide a good explanation why it does not follow the guidelines will be found to have violated the law.

Criminal law and Rights Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Individuals in Canada have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and unreasonable seizures of their property and their personal information. What is reasonable is decided by a judge or justice of the peace, who is required to balance the individual’s privacy against the government institution’s reasons for seeking the information.

When the police want to do a search, they have to show a judge or justice of the peace reasonable and probable grounds that an offence has been committed and that evidence of the offence is available in the place to be searched, before the privacy invasion will be authorized by way of a warrant or court order.