Pri­vacy com­mis­sioner in­ves­ti­gates after school we­b­cams streamed

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page -

Nova Sco­tia’s pri­vacy com­mis­sioner is in­ves­ti­gat­ing after images of stu­dents on se­cu­rity cam­eras at a Cape Bre­ton school were streamed on the In­ter­net, rais­ing fresh ques­tions about rea­son­able surveil­lance.

Cather­ine Tully said Thurs­day a brief look at the web­site in­se­ sug­gests dozens of other we­b­cams in the prov­ince and likely around the coun­try are also stream­ing there.

“My strong ad­vice to any­body who has a video surveil­lance sys­tem, whether they’re in­di­vid­u­als or busi­nesses or pub­lic bod­ies, is: go to that web­site and see if your sys­tem’s there,’’ Tully said in an in­ter­view.

“Change your pass­word. Se­cure your data.’’

The web­site reg­is­tered in Rus­sia bills it­self as the world’s largest di­rec­tory of on­line surveil­lance se­cu­rity cam­eras. Images in the past have in­cluded ev­ery­thing from sex in pri­vate homes to chil­dren recorded on so-called nan­ny­cams as they slept.

A spokesman for the Cape Bre­ton school board said Thurs­day it learned Wed­nes­day of the is­sue after a lo­cal CBC re­porter was tipped that de­tailed images of pupils at the school, aged five to 18, were ap­pear­ing on the web­site.

Lewis MacDon­ald, man­ager of build­ings for the Cape Bre­ton-Vic­to­ria Re­gional School Board, said footage in­cluded kids drink­ing from a wa­ter foun­tain and play­ing in the out­door yard. Pass­words were changed right away and the mat­ter seems to be fixed, he said in an in­ter­view.

MacDon­ald said he wasn’t sure if sim­ple de­fault pass­words that came with the cam­eras, which can eas­ily be breached, were changed when the de­vices were in­stalled over the last two years at the Rankin School of the Nar­rows in Iona.

The board has 40 schools and “hun­dreds of cam­eras’’ op­er­at­ing 24 hours a day mostly to pre­vent van­dal­ism, he added. The board is now re­view­ing what went wrong.

Tully said she has the power to in­ves­ti­gate when there’s rea­son to be­lieve a pub­lic agency is not com­ply­ing with pri­vacy laws.

“Video surveil­lance, in my view, is a highly pri­vacy-in­va­sive tech­nol­ogy. When or­ga­ni­za­tions and pub­lic bod­ies use this tech­nol­ogy, they need to first do a proper as­sess­ment to en­sure that they are re­spect­ing the pri­vacy of in­di­vid­u­als.’’

Pri­vacy lawyer Karen Eltis, a law pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Ot­tawa, said with data and im­age col­lec­tion comes great re­spon­si­bil­ity — es­pe­cially in the bor­der­less world of the In­ter­net.

“There needs to be a pur­pose­ful ap­proach to surveil­lance, one that is pro­por­tional and, bor­row­ing lan­guage from the Char­ter, which is min­i­mally in­va­sive,’’ she said in an in­ter­view.

“What are the cam­eras there for? Why are there cam­eras at the wa­ter foun­tain?’’

Eltis said it’s all about balanc­ing com­pet­ing rights and in­ter­ests. The de­sire to wipe out van­dal­ism must be weighed against pro­tec­tion of pri­vacy and risks as­so­ci­ated with record­ing video footage of a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion, she added.

“Any su­per­flu­ous or ex­ces­sive col­lec­tion of data can lead to tremen­dous trou­ble, all the more so and cer­tainly when you’re deal­ing with chil­dren.’’

Jen­nifer Rees-Jones, a se­nior ad­viser for in­ves­ti­ga­tions with the Of­fice of the Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner of Canada, said the Rus­sian web­site has raised ma­jor con­cerns since 2014.

“The footage that’s shown on th­ese In­ter­net-con­nected cam­eras can be very, very sen­si­tive — es­pe­cially when they’re used in pri­vate homes or schools.’’

Con­sumers who think their we­b­cam is se­cure should read fine print and dou­ble-check.

Rees-Jones said fed­eral pri­vacy in­ves­ti­ga­tors have writ­ten to the web­site op­er­a­tors in the past asking them to re­move footage from un­se­cured we­b­cams.

Such traf­fic seemed to lessen for a while but has since picked up, she said from Toronto.

“We’ve re­cently be­come aware that once again they ap­pear to be post­ing we­b­cam footage from pri­vate spa­ces.’’


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