Encrypted surveillance video may solve Yellowknife's security camera woes: former privacy commissioner

A former privacy watchdog says encrypting surveillance footage may be a solution for Yellowknife's security camera woes.

Residents should be concerned if cameras are used beyond security reasons, says Ann Cavoukian

A three-term former privacy commissioner of Ontario says encrypting surveillance footage may be a solution for Yellowknife's public security camera question. (CBC)

A former privacy commissioner of Ontario says one Yellowknife councillor's suggestion to broadcast security camera footage online for everyone to watch is "ridiculous" — and offered a solution to the city's security camera woes.

The city of Yellowknife temporarily shut down its security cameras on Jan. 18, following allegations reported by local media and CBC that the technology was used to ogle women by some city staff, including the head of the municipal enforcement division.

"I applaud them for shutting this down right now," said Ann Cavoukian, a three-term former privacy commissioner for the Province of Ontario.

"I mean really? Using video surveillance cameras to [allegedly] ogle women? I just find that so unbelievable and so juvenile, but it is certainly not unique," said Cavoukian, explaining she's heard of similar situations in London, England.

On Monday, Coun. Niels Konge floated the idea to use security cameras as webcams and stream footage online for anyone to access.

He suggested that webcams placed in venues such as the city's Fieldhouse and Multiplex could allow viewers to watch sports competitions involving friends or family, pointing to similar installations in southern provinces used for tournaments or swim meets.

"Oh great. Let's make the problem worse, by making everything available to everybody," said Cavoukian in response to Konge's idea.

"That's ridiculous."

Yellowknife City Coun. Niels Konge says his suggestion could allow people to watch their friends of family take part in sports events at city venues like the multiplex or fieldhouse. (Walter Strong/CBC)

She said there's a privacy value where law-abiding citizens should be able to go out in public places, meet people and that should be "nobody else's business."

"None of this falls under the authority of law enforcement," said Cavoukian.

A possible solution

Cavoukian recommends encrypting the surveillance feed as a solution — which means coding or locking the video so that it's not easily accessible.

"So if someone tries to access the data in an unauthorized way, like this guy who's [allegedly] ogling women, he wouldn't get anything. He would just get gibberish," explained Cavoukian.

She explained that it would require a warrant from a judge to decrypt the information. Law enforcement officers would have to have a legitimate concern of criminal activity.

"As a privacy person, I would then say to the police, be my guest, you have lawful authority to access the data."

Cavoukian says residents of Yellowknife should be concerned if cameras are being used in ways outside of security and law enforcement reasons.

She reminds people that cameras are there to maintain public safety and to keep city facilities safe.

"It's not to track the comings and goings of private citizens as they go about their business in Yellowknife."

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