TTC's move to activate external cameras on buses, streetcars worries privacy advocate

The TTC says it's activating external cameras on its new buses and streetcars for safety reasons, but longtime privacy advocate Ann Cavoukian says she has problems with the move.

Police will need a warrant for video not directly related to an incident involving the TTC

New streetcars will have extra cameras added due to their large size. (John Hanley/CBC)

The TTC says it's activating external cameras on its new buses and streetcars for safety reasons, but a longtime privacy advocate says she has problems with the move.

The transit agency, which held public consultations on the plan Tuesday night at the North York Memorial Community Hall, says the cameras will be turned on as early as the end of the year. The TTC is making the move in the wake of a number of traffic incidents involving buses and streetcars, and due to the ongoing issue of vehicles driving past open streetcar doors as passengers are getting on and off. 

"Primarily it's about safety, and just ensuring that any time there is an incident we have the most comprehensive version of events we can," TTC spokesperson Stuart Green told CBC Toronto.

New buses come with six external cameras.  Green says new streetcars will need more than six because of their size. He adds engineers are looking into the number and placement of additional cameras on the new fleet. It's unclear how much the retrofit would cost.

Former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian has concerns about the TTC's new external cameras.

"Any cost associated with this is worth it ... if you're talking about large insurance claims for example. This is a way for us to potentially mitigate any claims that may not be legitimate. If we're cutting down on that cost then the cameras are a small cost," Green said.

But a former Ontario privacy commissioner, Anne Cavoukian, is concerned about unauthorized TTC employees getting access to the video, and says the information needs to be encrypted.

Diagram shows where current external cameras are located on new fleet. They could be activated by the end of the year. (http://www.ttc.ca)

"That way it isn`t accessible to anyone, employees who might be curious, or might be following people ... If you encrypt the video feed, then you can't have unauthorized access."

Green says the feed would be encrypted and require an access code only granted to a limited number of people. He also says the tapes would auto erase after 72 hours.

And while the TTC readily hands over video to police about incidents involving the agency or its property, police will need a warrant for material caught on external cameras that does not directly relate to the TTC.

For Cavoukian, she is concerned that the cameras' potential to capture "a lot of personal data," including movements at specific times of day, will "facilitate surveillance and in my view, that's the last thing we want."

External cameras on streetcars and buses will be used to assess incidents involving pedestrians, vehicles and the TTC. (Mehrdad Nazarahari/CBC)

"Privacy forms the foundation of our freedom. You cannot have freedom in a democratic society without a foundation of privacy. And privacy relates to control over your data. Personal control over the use of your personal information".

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said police would not need a warrant to access video from external cameras on TTC streetcars and buses, information attributed to TTC spokesperson Stuart Green. Green has since clarified that while the transit agency provides police with video that relates to incidents involving the TTC without a warrant, a warrant will be required for video that captures any incident not involving the TTC.
    Oct 10, 2018 9:57 AM ET