Canadian Security Magazine

Using surveillance in the workplace

By Canadian Security   

Features Opinion

An employee who worked for an inter-city bus company complained that his employer was using 22 video cameras installed in a city bus depot to monitor and manage employee performance.1 The employee claimed there were no signs or notices in the bus depot advising employees or the public about the video surveillance. The employee alleged that his employer was collecting individuals' personal information without their knowledge or consent.

The federal Privacy Commissioner investigated the complaint and found the employer’s purposes for collection and use of the information captured by the video surveillance cameras, as stated below, were reasonable:

Purpose 1:     Ensure the safety and security expectations of customers and employees.
Purpose 2:     Reduce and discourage incidents of vandalism and illegal conduct.
Purpose 3:     Limit the potential for liability for damages due to fraud, theft or inappropriate operational procedures.

None of the aforementioned purposes was to monitor or manage employee performance. Cameras were located in employee work areas to monitor movement of vehicles, freight and passengers, and in employee work areas where there was a large amount of cash and freight handling.

The Privacy Commissioner was satisfied that, “the use of the video surveillance system could be supported for the purposes as outlined by the organization — ensuring security and safety, reducing illegal behaviour and limiting the potential for liability.” 2 


The Privacy Commissioner found that although adequate signage did exist in the bus depot, the employer had not made reasonable efforts to explain to its employees the purposes of the surveillance.

This case teaches us three lessons:
Video surveillance in the workplace must be accompanied by sufficient signage to alert employees that they may be monitored.

If there is to be video surveillance in the workplace, employees must be informed of the purposes the information will be used.

Implied consent of employees for the use of their personal information collected by video surveillance is assumed to have been obtained when the personal information being collected is not sensitive and the express purposes of the video surveillance have been explained so that the employees would reasonably expect that their information be used for those purposes.

Some may argue that lessons No. 1 and No. 2 are simply common sense.
For many years, I have advised employers and security professionals to post signs to inform employees that the workplace area is subject to video surveillance by overt cameras.  
Signs and notices inform an individual that he or she is being observed (and recorded) by the surveillance camera and remove that person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Lesson No. 3 needs some explanation. If sensitive information is collected, the consent should be express (e.g., in writing). Consent can only be implied for purposes for which the employee expects the information to be used.

If you have not already done so, prepare and implement a video surveillance policy containing guidelines and procedures for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information obtained by video surveillance

Elliott Goldstein, B.A., LL.B. is a Woodbridge, Ont.-based lawyer.

1 In fact, the bus depot’s surveillance system consisted of 31 digital video cameras, two digital video recorders, and two monitors. The DVRs were kept in a secured room, which was staffed by private security personnel. The cameras were static and not continuously monitored. The readings were kept for 3 months.
2 See PIPEDA Case Summary # 2009-1 Bus terminal video surveillance is challenged by company employee.
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