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
Common neighborly disputes can be caused by a security camera taking in footage of other’s private property, like backyards. This is why the new by-law demands that security cameras should only be pointed at, or within the owner’s private property. Following the first privacy law regarding unwarranted recordings, having a camera without audio recording features provides a solution.
The only exception to this by-law is that cameras are legally allowed to point toward front-facing sidewalks, as they are considered public property.
What Can I do If my Neighbour is Recording Me?
Like in other cases, homeowners who feel that their rights are being violated can appeal to a small-claims court in order to determine if there is cause to be worried. Police can also request to view the accused owner’s footage to see if the recording does indeed violate the privacy by-law. Remember, cameras are allowed to be pointed anywhere within an individual’s own private property. Making sure that the cameras are indeed over-shooting will give legal benefits to your argument.
What Should You Do?
With the fortifications by-law introduced, and heated debates between neighbors caused by camera placement, what should you do if you want the protection of a security system? The key is simply maintaining the surveillance within your own perimeters. Pointing cameras at your own backyard, surrounding perimeters, doorways, and even sidewalk is perfectly legal.
Additionally, this by-law should not interfere with your own sense of safety. Despite the regulations on surveillance, there are a variety of security services besides cameras that can be used. For instance, Alarmtech offers security systems equipped with glass break detectors, motion sensors, and more. These systems cannot interfere with others’ privacy rights while also maintaining the full protection of your property.
Council of the City of London, Fortification of Land By-law, London, Ontario, Canada, 2001, web. https://www.london.ca/city-hall/by-laws/Documents/fortificationPW8.pdf
Branch, Legislative Services. “Consolidated Federal Laws of Canada, Criminal Code.” Justice Laws Website, Government of Canada, 14 July 2020,