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Guidelines blur the lines of reality

On May 10, Helena Guergis went to the Ottawa headquarters of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) with CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge to view security video footage of her now infamous visit to the Charlottetown Airport last February. Her goal was to prove that she did not have the “meltdown” that had previously been reported in the press.


May 25, 2010
By Jennifer Brown


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For those who have been living under a rock, Guergis is the former
Conservative cabinet minister for the Ontario riding of Simcoe-Grey who
was booted out of caucus while the RCMP investigate allegations over
her conduct.

Mansbridge admitted in his interview with Guergis later that day that
the footage of her at the security checkpoint was “pretty tame stuff.”

In viewing the footage, Guergis was exercising a right she has under
Canadian privacy laws — to view surveillance captured of her in a
public place.

The question is though, was the footage of others filmed in the scene
at Charlottetown airport blocked out to protect their privacy? CATSA
told Canadian Security that their understanding is that the images must
be blurred only if the footage is released. As Guergis viewed the
footage in the CATSA offices, the images did not have to be blurred.

Under guidelines set out by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, those
who capture video footage of persons in public places must make video
available upon request, but they must also protect the privacy of
others in the video at the same time.

It’s an issue Elizabeth Denham, the new privacy commissioner for B.C.,
was confronted with at the Security Canada Alberta Tri-Lateral
conference in Calgary, May 13.
What Denham was not ready for was to be asked to defend the Privacy
Commissioner’s list of 10 guidelines for video surveillance issued in
March 2008.
(www.privcom.gc.ca/information/guide/2008/gl_vs_080306_e.asp.)

When Denham finished her presentation, Glen Kitteringham, director,
security and life safety for Brookfield Properties in Calgary, who
oversees an office complex that includes twin 52-storey office towers
which see 200,000 people pass through in a week, questioned the
expectation that all organizations must provide access to video
captured in a public place.

If requested, the company that has captured the video must blur the
images of others in the footage. According to the guidelines, “This can
be done through technologies that mask identity.”
He also told Denham several of the guidelines contradict each other.
She didn’t seem to have an answer for his questions, but said she would
review the recommendations.

Experts I spoke with say they have blurred images for other reasons
with various tools, including Microsoft Movie Maker, and would
typically keep an unchanged version of the recording for court and an
altered version to show the individual. But the question is, would the
court wonder if data manipulation or distortion had occurred? Others I
spoke with say they would not honour a request from someone wanting to
see footage of themselves.

The recommendations are too broad with little consideration of how
organizations collect and store video. Perhaps it’s time they be
revisited and those involved consulted on the practicality of opening
up video vaults to the public.


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