Nfld. & Labrador

Stop recording people on security cameras, privacy commissioner warns Paradise

A complaint to the privacy commissioner sparked an investigation into Paradise's use of security cameras, both inside and outside of its buildings.

Town failed to provide valid reason for having cameras, says Donovan Molloy

The province's open records watchdog has taken issue with security cameras in Paradise. (Gary Locke/CBC)

For the sixth time in five months, the province's privacy commissioner has made recommendations to the Town of Paradise — this time, it's to shut off its security cameras.

Donovan Molloy received a complaint in September about the collection of personal information through the cameras at town buildings.

While he said he can't comment on specifics of the case yet, Molloy said the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act prevents public bodies from putting up cameras without reason.

"You just can't put video surveillance everywhere because it's convenient," he told CBC News on Wednesday. "If you're going to do it, you have to comply with the requirements in the act."

Donovan Molloy is the information and privacy commissioner in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Gary Locke/CBC)

When questioned by Molloy, the town said it installed 87 cameras after incidents of vandalism, false fire alarms, bomb threats and property damage.

On two occasions, the footage was used to investigate criminal activity on town property.

But when Molloy asked for more detailed information on those incidents, the report says there was no response.

"The town's failure to provide the requested information precluded any possibility of informally resolving the complaint," he wrote.

"The town's lack of co-operation does not relieve me of the duty to complete the investigation."

Cameras were on staff members, report finds

Molloy said it has become "increasingly unlikely" for people to leave their homes without being captured on camera.

With improvements in technology, the quality of these pictures has increased and it's now easier to identify people from the footage, he said.

"When people are identifiable, their right to privacy is impacted," he wrote.

The report also says Paradise has 23 cameras indoors — 18 of which are in staff-only areas.

There are 87 security cameras on or inside buildings owned and operated by the Town of Paradise. (Gary Locke/CBC)

All the cameras are live-streaming to the computers belonging to 25 different staff members.

Molloy asked how the indoor cameras are helping to prevent crime, but did not get an answer on that either, he said.

Paradise officials declined interview requests on Wednesday, but said they are reviewing the report and will respond to it within 10 days.

They can either accept the recommendations, which would mean turning off the cameras, or take the matter to court.

Six reports in five months

The town said it is also looking into how this report relates to one from January, when Molloy criticized them for destroying surveillance video after it was requested by a failed mayoral candidate.

John Roberts accused his opponent, the incumbent Mayor Dan Bobbett, of campaigning at a polling station on the day of the election — something that contravenes the province's Municipal Elections Act.

John Roberts lost his bid to be mayor of Paradise last fall to Dan Bobbett, but when he requested the voting records he found out they had been destroyed. (CBC)

However, after he requested to see footage from the cameras at the community rink where the polling station was set up, the video was deleted.

In the January report, Molloy said he could not conclude it was intentional, but called it "grossly negligent."

There have also been reports into the town shredding election records and withholding other documents, including ones relating to severance payments to specific people.

Paradise's six investigations since September are by far the most of any public body — more than the City of St. John's, Memorial University and Nalcor combined.