As individuals move throughout public spaces and interact with publicly-available services, they leave behind large amounts of data in a variety of forms. This includes video images and audio recordings, captured via publicly- or privately-owned video cameras, social media data (and metadata related to time and location), and public service databases.
CCTV and Video Surveillance
The use of video surveillance technology to monitor public spaces has increased dramatically since the 1990s, particularly due to the ease of recording and sharing afforded by VHS, DVD, and the Internet. The use of video recording is often subtle enough to go largely unnoticed by those it aims to capture. While it is difficult to estimate the number of CCTV and video surveillance cameras in operation, some efforts have been made to identify and record where cameras exist. For example, SurveillenceRights.ca collects crowdsourced information on the location of existing CCTV cameras and logs them in a publicly-available interactive map.
Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), a self-contained surveillance system, which transmits a direct feed of its connected security cameras a connected monitor, has been a popular form of video surveillance for many decades. CCTV cameras capture data on individuals in the form of video footage, sometimes accompanied by audio data as well. Footage captured by CCTV is recorded directly on a Digital Video Recorder. This footage cannot be viewed from outside the system. CCTV cameras must be strategically placed in order to capture activity in a specific area. For this reason, many CCTV cameras are fixed to physical infrastructure, such as buildings or light poles.
According to a report on the worldwide installation of video surveillance cameras, the growth of CCTV has been slowing in recent years. However, this has been accompanied with an increase in security cameras which record and transmit footage through a digital stream wirelessly. Since this can be done over the internet, footage can be viewed from anywhere, as long as there is a connection to the security camera. Alongside this, the decreased cost of video recording technology has enabled video surveillance to be adopted widely by both businesses and residents. However, this widespread use of video surveillance has raised privacy concerns.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada recognizes that video surveillance in public places presents a challenge to privacy as it subjects everyone to scrutiny. A number of laws have been developed to ensure transparency related to the use of video surveillance, and safeguard individual privacy rights. The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), for example, requires businesses to post signs outside their entrances that alert customers to the use of video surveillance, its purpose, and a contact number so people can find out where they can obtain a copy of any footage that contains their image. However, the extent to which these are enforced and complied with is not universal.
A group of researchers from the University of Toronto discovered that out of hundreds of video surveillance cameras in two Toronto area malls — the Eaton Centre and Square One Shopping Centre — none complied with the minimum standards required by law, including basic signage. These findings indicate the challenges surrounding the rapidly growing use of video surveillance, alongside the lack of appropriate understanding or enforcement of transparency and oversight.