Surveillance is a topic that has led to many heated debates. This is due in part because of the overlap that recording devices have with an individual's right to privacy, and surveillance technologies' role in deterring crime. This overlap often requires deciding which priorities are more important, which is difficult if every individual has access to these same rights. In other words, people generally agree with surveillance being used to deter crime. However, this can change when a neighbor’s concern for surveillance is pointed at their home. While the ethics of this debate will continue on, there are some already established laws and by-laws that give clear direction as to what is appropriate and inappropriate surveillance.
What is Considered Illegal Surveillance?Canadian privacy laws indicate that it is illegal to record a conversation with someone without their consent. This essentially means that you cannot go out of your way to intercept and record a private conversation. This is why many surveillance cameras in workplaces do not record audio, as it would be a breach of privacy laws. Additionally, while there is surveillance technology present in public and private spaces, these institutions are subject to the IPC guidelines if they record personal information. In essence, these guidelines make institutions limit the amount of private information they can intake. This is why it is common to see cameras surveying a city block or gathering area, but are not present in restrooms. Businesses and other institutions have to balance between the benefit of increased surveillance (the number of privacy rights encroached upon) and the overall benefit of using said technology. Positive use of this kind of surveillance is often used in workplaces to prevent sexual harassment for instance. Of course, the laws affecting government institutions' collection of private data is much more clear than in residential cases.
Can You Sue Someone for Recording You Without Permission?According to government sources, “184 (1) Everyone who, by means of any electro-magnetic, acoustic, mechanical or another device, wilfully intercepts a private communication is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.” (Criminal Code 2004) In short, yes. If somehow you discover that someone has illegally tapped an audio call or videotaped you without permission, you have grounds. Unless you are a provider or given special permissions, regular individuals who record without consent are breaking a law.
Residential Camera Laws - Can My Neighbour Point a Camera At My House?Surveillance and privacy laws are still rather fuzzy, though there is a specific by-law in Ontario which tries to solve this dilemma. The fortifications by-law states specifically that, “ visual surveillance equipment, including video cameras, night vision systems, or electronic surveillance devices capable of permitting either stationary or scanned viewing or listening, beyond the perimeter of the land.” (London City Council, 2001) When it comes to applying the by-law to residential neighborhoods with surveillance cameras, there are two main highlights.
- Cameras should not point toward other people’s private property
- No or limited audio recordings