Nova Scotia

A camera in a Halifax cab raises questions about privacy

A woman wants to see clear signs letting passengers know they're being recorded after she says she had an uncomfortable taxi ride in Halifax last week.

'All I saw was this little red light taping us,' says New Brunswick woman

A woman who had an uncomfortable taxi ride in Halifax says she wants cabs using security cameras to be clearly marked.

A New Brunswick woman who says she had an uncomfortable taxi experience in Halifax wants to see better signage when it comes to cameras in cabs.

Johanne McInnis was in Halifax on Wednesday, when she and two friends got into a taxi after dinner.

McInnis, who works as a security specialist for the federal government, said she noticed a red light flashing on the dash.

"All I saw was this little red light taping us," she said. "I just felt really, it felt creepy.

"I said to the driver, 'Is that a camera recording what's happening in the back seat?' And he said, 'Yes.'"

Smaller cameras, like this one, are becoming more common. (Peter Nowak/CBC)

McInnis said she looked to see if there were any signs notifying passengers they were being recorded. There were none that she could see.

"Then I said, 'Is this videotaping us or is it also audio?' And he just sort of looked at me through the rearview mirror and kind of shrugged his shoulders and I thought, 'OK, that's bizarre,'" she said.

McInnis asked if there were signs on the exterior of the cab. She asked what happened to the footage. She asked about the regulations in Halifax about camera use in cabs.

"It was just either a shrug of the shoulder, or just looking at us in the rearview mirror but not really saying anything, which again was a little disconcerting."

No reference to cameras in the bylaw

Despite past efforts to make in-cab cameras mandatory, Halifax does not require them.

Erin DiCarlo, a municipal spokesperson, said in an email that there is no reference to cameras, or footage collected by cameras, in the current bylaws.

She said staff does not recommend cameras be mandatory in taxis.

"In the case of driver safety, there is nothing prohibiting a driver from installing a camera at their own cost," she said.

A sign on the passenger window of this cab warns customers that they may be recorded during the ride. McInnis says she saw nothing like this on her Halifax taxi. (CBC)

David Fraser, a privacy lawyer with McInnes Cooper in Halifax, said because equipment has become cheaper and smaller over the years, public cameras are more pervasive.

"You're seeing them more often, but it's harder to see them because of the characteristics of these small cameras," he said.

"There's an assumption that cameras are going to be a panacea and are going to fix everything. I don't think that's the case."

Fraser said every taxi driver in the province is subject to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

The federal law requires consent for collection, use and disclosure of personal information in the course of commercial activity — such as driving a taxi. That consent is normally obtained, he said, when people see the signs and choose to get in to the cab.

Privacy lawyer David Fraser says companies with cameras have a legal obligation to tell people they're being recorded. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

But Fraser said there also has to be a reason for why the recording is being done and an explanation of what happens to the footage.

"The business needs to identify the purposes and I think that most companies that have surveillance cameras don't do that," he said.

"A taxi driver that does not have signage related to the use of a camera is not complying with what the requirements are under our privacy legislation."

He said people who end up in similar situations should write down the date and time of the incident, as well as the taxi number.

McInnis, who was only in the cab for about four minutes, doesn't know the taxi company she used because someone else made the call for the cab.

'A camera is probably a good thing'

Fraser said in the grand scheme of things, security footage can be used for both good or nefarious purposes.

"But I do think the cameras are certainly called for and appropriate in many circumstances," he said.

"And I think that the inherent vulnerability that a person has, particularly a woman and particularly if there's a possibility of intoxication, I think a camera is probably a good thing."

McInnis said she sympathizes with the fact that the cameras are there, in most cases, to protect both the driver and passengers — but she would like to see signs letting people know they're being recorded.

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