Hidden camera in YMCA locker prompts privacy questions

The discovery of a camera hidden in the men's locker room of the Fredericton YMCA is prompting questions about where and when video cameras can be used.

Privacy commission says need for surveillance must balance with individual's right to privacy

Video surveillance use has exploded, but must be balanced with an individual's right to privacy, says Canada's privacy commissioner. 2:04

The discovery of a camera hidden in the men's locker room of the Fredericton YMCA is prompting questions about where and when video cameras can be used.

The new chief executive of the Fredericton YMCA, Barb Ramsay, discovered the camera in a routine operational review, had it removed and contacted police.

YMCA members had not been informed there was a camera in the locker room or notified of the possibility they were being videotaped.

The use of video surveillance to protect people or property in Canada has exploded, according Chantal Bernier, Canada's privacy commissioner. And the commissioner cautions that along with the need for surveillance must come a balance with an individual's right to privacy.

The privacy commissioner's website has a 10-point checklist outlining what is necessary for overt video surveillance in the private sector.

YMCA members in Fredericton have said there was an ongoing problem with theft from the change rooms. The YMCA has not said whether the camera was placed in the locker room to catch thieves.

Mandy Woodland, a St. John's lawyer who specializes in privacy matters, says there are rules to follow for placing a camera in a locker room or washroom in an attempt to catch a thief.

"You have to show that you haven't been successful at using less privacy intrusive means," said Woodland, the past chair of the Canadian Bar Association's national privacy and access law section.

Privacy lawyer Mandy Woodland says signs are a necessity if video surveillance is used in a private changing area. (CBC)
"For example, number one, you've got to have tried some other things, or not been able to try some other things that are less privacy invasive.

"Number two, once you've shown that, you still have to have a bunch of things in place. Usually you have to have consent from the people using that locker room."

Woodland says signage is a necessity in a locker room under video surveillance.

"The signs have to be pretty clear on what was being used, why the information was being collected, how it was being used and who was going to look at that," said Woodland.

Woodland says in 2006, the Alberta privacy commissioner ruled in favour of a sports centre that had tried less intrusive ways to deal with more than 900 thefts.

The sports centre involved in that case has strict protocols in place for who viewed the footage and when.

Abby Deshman, director of public safety programs, for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, called the discovery of the Fredericton locker room camera "really creepy."

"We have federal privacy laws that limit when organizations can put up cameras," she said. "And especially since this one was without notice — that people apparently didn't know it was there — I think there is really strong concern that even if it was done for good reasons, it violated federal privacy laws.

"There are limits to what we can do in the name of safety and security," said Deshman. "The very basic requirement for security cameras in businesses is that they put up a notice and let people that know they are under surveillance."

Deshman said it is also important to determine who had access to the footage captured by the camera and what safety measures were in place.

"We know that people can be extremely hurt by privacy invasions," she said.

"If any of this footage ever made it to the internet, that causes real damage. It can be financial damage, it can be reputational damage, it can be emotional damage."

Police are investigating the placement of the camera in the locker room. YMCA Canada says it does not approve of cameras in locker rooms or washrooms and is calling the Fredericton incident a "breach in security procedures."

The YMCA says it will speak openly about what happened when the Fredericton police have concluded their investigation.