Privacy commissioner unsure digital surveillance works

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By Adam Brazeau

CORNWALL, Ontario – Ontario’s privacy commissioner still hasn’t found evidence that a rising amount of surveillance cameras in Cornwall is deterring or preventing crime.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) of Ontario, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, said, organizations that are considering implementing a video surveillance program are encouraged not to view it as a “silver bullet.”

A provincial grant of $147,000 is doubling the amount of cameras to 12, in the city. Currently, six are located downtown and the Le Village areas. The next six are slated to be installed over the next few weeks.

“We’re seeing marginal decreases in areas we expected to go down,” said police chief Parkinson.

Areas include counterfeit money being given to businesses, street assaults and public drunkenness.

Cavoukian said the Cornwall police are using the IPC’s guidelines and has established a working relationship with them on matters concerning privacy.

“The police are not interested in snooping, were interested in deterring crime,” said Parkinson."

Parkinson said closed-circuit technology is here to ensure high levels of safety and reduced crime opportunities for the betterment of the city. He conveyed that it's not always a matter of counting crimes.

A research survey, scheduled to come to surface next year, polled residents and business owners on their perception of fear of crime in the community before the cameras arrived. Another survey will be conducted to gauge the difference over the last few years.

The original six cameras were installed in 2011, from the first provincial grant of $110,000.

"We don't have a qualitative perspective yet," said Parkinson. "We will compare the answers and hopefully see a net effect from the cameras."

So far the surveillance equipment hasn't cost taxpayers a single dollar. Both grants, coming in at a just over a quarter million, come from the Civil Remedies Act; a program that allocates money and forfeited property from criminal activity to designated institutions, including police services.

"This money has been taken from bad guys for good guys," said Parkinson.

Parkinson feels there are a lot of blind spots the cameras don't reach. Even with their 360 degree panning and night vision capabilities.

He will be asking the business community if they'd like to be a part of the recent increase in digital justice.

"We're actually exploring public and private partnerships with local financial institutions and businesses," said Parkinson.

The police chief will be asking banks and stores if they're interested in purchasing a camera that specifically monitors their establishment and is hooked into the police network.

The privacy commissioner had mixed reviews on the disclosure of personal information based on direct remote access to video surveillance images by the police. 

"There was a particular concern that access to live video surveillance feed by the police could lead to potentially privacy invasive activities and improper surveillance," said Cavoukian.

Parkinson is adamant that the cameras are helpful proactive tools.

Some of the new cameras will be added to existing monitored areas. Where the rest will be located is being discussed with the city. Parkinson suggested the Splash Pad, since there could be a risk if a pedophile is in the area.

Parkinson recognized that Cornwall is one of few cities of its size in the region to be so heavily monitored. A few years ago he noticed another city of similar size with cameras and decided to push for the grants. The fact that the Cornwall police is getting in early on the closed-circuit television way of policing is a sign of modern times to Parkinson.

"It's our forward-thinking police board and police services that brought this to the forefront," said Parkinson.

Geographic location: Cornwall, Ontario

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  • Xeoma Software
    July 26, 2013 - 09:51

    "...the Cornwall police is getting in early on the closed-circuit television way of policing is a sign of modern times to Parkinson." Sounds funny. All over the world CCTV is known as extremely outdated, with IP technologies advancing so fast and providing almost incredible opportunities. Also, from taxpayers' money or not, $3000 per camera seems to be unreasonable. Is it really that expensive to trench cables in Cornwell? Even fish-eye cameras with 360-degrees-view, combined with robust software with license plate recognition, alarms, and what-not don't total up at this amount. While cameras should indeed be the best, software doesn't have to be that ridiculously ripping off - and it will still have all the features you need and allow for future expanding.