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Privacy and private lives

We can only make an informed choice about whether surveillance is reasonable if we are adequately informed.


March 1, 2013  


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In this age of “constant contact / always on / share everything / blah blah blah,” it is easy to forget that we actually do have the right to go about our business with a reasonable degree of privacy. Identify theft is an increasingly common occurrence — so much so that it has now become much-mulched feed for Hollywood (including this year’s meh-comedy, “Identity Thief”).

And it is all too easy for images or video (from mildly embarrassing to career-limiting) to end up on the web for the whole world to see. Therefore, privacy is something about which we should all be more concerned, not less.

The question of privacy is always a delicate one when it is measured against surveillance conducted with the well-meaning intent of keeping people safe from attack or goods protected from theft.

Few people would argue, for example, against a store using a video camera to protect its stock from shoplifters. But what if that camera captures an embarrassing moment and some clerk decides to share it with the world via YouTube? Or what if that camera is being used for a business purpose that has nothing to do with security, such as gathering marketing intelligence?

We can only make an informed choice about whether surveillance is reasonable if we are adequately informed. We need to know:

• The purposes for which the camera is being used

• What happens to one’s image after the camera has captured it

• Who gets to see the images, and under what circumstances

• If there is an issue, who is responsible for the surveillance camera and how one contacts them.

These are not just good ideas. Canada’s privacy laws require that citizens be clearly informed of their rights vis-à-vis security cameras. Yet, research conducted by a team from the University of Toronto found that the private sector is failing to do its duty.

The research project is called SurveillanceRights (www.surveillancerights.ca) and it is just one of a number of projects that are shedding light on the collision between legitimate surveillance and privacy. SurveillanceRights found 70% of privately-operated cameras in the Greater Toronto Area display no signs whatsoever to inform citizens that they’re being watched. For the remaining 30%, none of the signs met the basic requirements as defined by the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

The situation is so bad that the researchers are offering a reward to the first person to produce evidence of a minimally-compliant private sector security camera installation.

That is appalling. It is past time for Canadians businesses to step up to their legal responsibilities.

The SurveillanceRights Web site offers a sign template to help businesses comply with the law, so bringing a business into compliance should be relatively straightforward.

• • • • • •

Speaking of privacy, the Canadian wireless industry has witnessed several interesting departures from the limelight:

In mid-February, Rogers Communications announced that Nadir Mohamed will step down as CEO, effective January, 2014, this despite the company reporting one of the strongest quarters in its history.

Also in mid-February, it was announced that Jim Balsillie — the one-time co-CEO of the company formerly known as Research In Motion — sold off the last of his RIM shares sometime in 2012. The transaction was revealed in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but did not specify exactly when Balsillie disposed of the shares. (Could it have been around March, 2012, when he resigned from the board?)

In January, we learned that Anthony Lacavera would turn in the keys to the CEO’s office at Wind Mobile. He is transferring his shares in Wind to Orascom Telecom Holdings SAE, the Egyptian-based company that has supplied financial backing to Lacavera since he founded Wind in 2008. That is sure to tweak the nose of regulators and not to mention Wind’s competitors, who fought Wind’s structure as a violation of Canadian telecom foreign ownership laws.

Lacavera intends to launch a new technology investment firm. As for Mohamed and Balsillie, chances are they are not disappearing into private life so watch the industry to see where they pop up next.

Or, check the recording from the security camera at the mall. CNS

 Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian technology sector. He can be reached(onhis mobile) at 416-878-7730 or at trevor@wordstm.com.