Condo security company did not misuse security camera system, but improved personal information safeguards

PIPEDA Case Summary #2007-376

[Principles 4.4 4.5, 4.7 and 4.7.1]

Lessons Learned

  • Collection of personal information by security cameras should be limited to what is necessary for the organization’s stated purposes.
  • Personal information collected by security cameras should not be used or disclosed for purposes other than those for which it was collected—unless the individual consents or the law requires it.
  • Security safeguards must protect personal information against loss or theft, as well as unauthorized access, disclosure, copying, use or modification.

A resident of a condominium complained that the building security officer tracked his whereabouts within the building using the security cameras and allowed other residents to view the images on the officer’s computer screen.  The resident also claimed that, in a separate incident, the security staff distributed a memorandum about him to other residents.

The investigation established that there was no basis for the complainant’s allegations regarding the use of the security camera system.  As for the memorandum, it could not be determined exactly how it had found its way into the hands of residents.  We had noted that there seemed to be some lapses in safeguards, and the company took steps to improve its measures to protect personal information in its care.  The Assistant Privacy Commissioner concluded that the complaints involving the cameras were not well-founded, and the complaint regarding the memorandum was well-founded and resolved.

The following is an overview of the investigation and the Assistant Commissioner’s deliberations.

Summary of Investigation – Security Cameras

The complainant had a history of having several “run-ins” with the condominium’s property management company, the security company, and certain residents over various matters.  One day, he was asked to leave the condominium property management office because of his behaviour.  As the situation became increasingly heated, a security occurrence report was filed.  That same day, the property management company requested an emergency meeting of the condominium’s Board of Directors (of which the complainant was a member at the time).  Numerous residents entered the meeting room that evening.  One of them made a remark to the complainant, who immediately turned around and left the room.  The remaining Board members asked the residents to leave the room, and some of them congregated in the lobby.  Two of them stood beside the concierge/security desk in the lobby. 

According to the complainant, the security officer then began collecting his personal information by tracking his whereabouts in the condominium using the security cameras.  He claimed that the officer allowed one of the two residents to watch him on the security camera monitors after he left the meeting, went up to his condominium, came back down and proceeded to the parking garage.  He alleged that one of the residents waved to him from the lobby window as he came out of the parking garage.

The concierge desk is “L” shaped; three monitors are placed along the short side of the desk area.  Typically, there are 16 screen images per monitor.  The monitors can be adjusted so that that there are only nine, four or one image per monitor.  Screen images are labelled A, B, or C.  The C screens relate to the parking area.  If one stands along the long side of the counter, one can see the security camera monitors; however, it is difficult to see the details of the images on the screens unless one is directly in front of the monitors. 

There are approximately 45 cameras placed throughout the condo.  Cameras are located at the main floor elevators (which can be taken to the parking garage) and another monitors the hallway to the parking garage.  There are cameras in the parking garage that capture the lane ways.  There is a camera at the entrance side to the garage but not on the exit side of the garage ramp.  However, one can only see that a vehicle is coming up the ramp to leave the garage from the camera located on the entrance side.

The cameras are fixed and cannot rotate or zoom.  Images are recorded and kept for one week.

The resident who allegedly was allowed to watch the complainant on the security cameras confirmed that he was present when the emergency Board meeting was to be held.  After the complainant left the meeting room, went to his condo and returned downstairs, the resident saw the complainant walking through the lobby with his backpack and heading to the elevator.  He assumed that the complainant was going to the parking garage.  He confirmed that he was standing along the side of the concierge desk.  He glanced over at the security camera monitors from the long side of the counter and saw a van come up the ramp out of the parking garage on one of the images from the screen.  The resident knew that the complainant drove a van, so he walked over to the front lobby window and waved goodbye to him.

He stated that the security officer did not allow him to go behind the counter, stand in front of the monitors or lean over the counter to watch the monitors.  He indicated that he did not know how the camera monitor system worked.  He could not recall whether anyone from security was even at the concierge desk at the time or whether anyone was standing beside him.  He stated that he did not ask the security officer to track the complainant’s whereabouts with the camera system. 

Another resident told us that she was also standing beside the concierge desk and saw the complainant head towards the elevator.  She stated that she looked over towards the monitors and noticed from one of the images that he had entered the elevator.  She then turned around and joined others in the lobby.  She confirmed that the other resident standing at the concierge desk walked over to the windows and waved to the complainant.

The security company denied that its security officer assisted the residents in tracking the complainant’s whereabouts or that it provided them with access to the cameras or monitors.  The security officer on duty that night stated that he did not, nor did anyone else, monitor the complainant with the security cameras.  He did not inform the residents where the complainant was in the complex.  He stated that he did not allow anyone behind the concierge/security desk or in the front of the cameras.  He recalled seeing the male resident standing at the counter.  The security officer indicated that he went into the storage room to get a package that had been delivered and when he came out, the resident in question was over at the lobby window waving to the complainant.

The company had communicated security concerns and problems it had encountered with the complainant to the various property management companies at the building over the years.  According to the information we reviewed, the complainant would go behind the security/concierge desk and review security reports and logs, view activity on the security camera monitors, access the computer, and tamper with security cameras.  He apparently would ignore any direction from the security company to refrain from such activity.

The monitors have since been replaced with flat screens that are angled away from the open area of the lobby.  This should ensure that the images captured are not visible to individuals standing at the desk or in the open area of the lobby.


Issued April 24, 2007

Application: Principle 4.4 states that the collection of personal information shall be limited to that which is necessary for the purposes identified by the organization.  Information shall be collected by fair and lawful means.  Under Principle 4.5, personal information shall not be used or disclosed for purposes other than those for which it was collected, except with the consent of the individual or as required by law.

In making her determinations, the Assistant Commissioner deliberated as follows:

  • There was no question that the complainant’s personal information, namely, his image, was collected by way of security cameras placed in the condominium and disclosed on the security system monitors.  Images are routinely collected when individuals pass within the range of the camera for security purposes, which presumably residents wanted.  The images are then broadcast on the monitors so that security officers can view them to ensure that they respond to any safety issues that arise. 
  • The question to address is whether this particular collection and broadcasting of the complainant’s image was out of the ordinary.
  • There was no evidence that the security officer was inappropriately collecting the complainant’s personal information by deliberately tracking his whereabouts in the condominium building, nor was there any evidence that he was asked to do so by the Board of Directors, the property management company, or by any of the other residents present in the lobby on the day in question.  The security cameras were being used, as they normally are, for the purpose of monitoring the building to ensure the routine safety of the residents and visitors. 
  • There was also no evidence that his images appeared on the monitor for any other reason than the complainant entered the elevator and went to the parking garage – places where the cameras are located.  The security officer had gone into the storage room and there was no evidence that he manipulated the screen images for the benefit of others or in any way allowed the other residents to do so.
  • The Assistant Commissioner therefore found that the security company’s collection of the complainant’s personal information in this instance did not contravene Principle 4.4. 
  • She also determined that the company did not disclose his personal information for any other reason than that for which it was collected, and she therefore found that the company had not contravened Principle 4.5.

Accordingly, she concluded that the complaints were not well-founded.

Summary of Investigation – Disclosure of memorandum

The events in the memorandum complaint occurred on a different date from the events considered in the camera complaint.  They are related, however, in that it is the same security officer involved in both matters.

According to an occurrence report filed by the security company, the complainant approached the security officer and threatened him.  The security officer reported the complainant’s actions to the police.  A few days later, the security company requested that the property management company and the Board of Directors of the condominium address the complainant’s behaviour toward its security officers.  In a memorandum of the same date, addressed to all security staff at the condominium, the company advised that any further difficulties, abuse, threats or harassment from the complainant should be reported to the police.

Around the same time, some of the residents formed a “Committee of Concerned Residents” whose objective was to remove the complainant from the Board of Directors.  The Committee, through the property management company, sent out a notice and proxy letter to all residents to convene a special general meeting of the owners and the Board regarding the complainant’s dismissal.  It then mailed out a second letter, with an attached proxy to vote on the same matter.

Other documentation about the complainant was attached to the Committee’s second letter, including the security company’s memorandum.  A resident showed the complainant the Committee’s letter and the attachments that were sent to the residents.  The same resident informed the complainant that the memorandum was part of a mass internal distribution within the condominium complex. 

One of the members of the Committee informed the Office that a copy of the memorandum was at her door, along with a stack of signed petitions.  She stated that she did not receive it directly from the security company or the property management company.

The security company stated that it was unaware of any copies of the memorandum being distributed to residents.  The company’s client service manager told us that the memorandum in question was delivered to the condominium site by the security service supervisor the day it was written for all security officers to read.  When the supervisor delivered the memorandum, he made an entry in the log book for all security officers to read the memorandum about the complainant and to sign that they had read and understood it. 

When our Office requested to see the memorandum (during our site visit), the binder containing the memorandum could not be located anywhere in the security desk area or in the storage room behind the desk.  The client service manager stated that a copy of the memorandum was not given to the Board, to the property management company or to any of the residents.  All of the company’s communications to the Board are conducted through the property management company, and this memorandum was not given to it.

The security company reminded its security officers verbally and in writing that the information and records they maintain are for the exclusive use of security and the property manager.  It reminded security officers that personal information cannot be shared with anyone and that they must protect such information.  According to the company, all memorandums to its staff are appropriately locked and resident information contained on its computer is protected by a password-protected screen saver.  The security of private information was also part of a recent supervisor training seminar.


Issued April 24, 2007

Application: Principle 4.7 states that personal information shall be protected by security safeguards appropriate to the sensitivity of the information.  Under Principle 4.7.1, the security safeguards shall protect personal information against loss or theft, as well as unauthorized access, disclosure, copying, use, or modification.  Organizations shall protect personal information regardless of the format in which it is held.

In making her determinations, the Assistant Commissioner deliberated as follows:

  • It could not be determined exactly how the memorandum in question found its way into the hands of the Committee of Concerned Residents.  The security company stated that it did not provide a copy to the Board, the property management company or the residents. 
  • Nevertheless, during the investigation, we noted that the binder containing the memorandum in question could not be found as it was not in its usual place. 
  • Any document containing sensitive information should be kept in an appropriate place in order to prevent someone from accessing it without authorization.  Principles 4.7 and 4.7.1 demand that organizations have in place appropriate safeguards to prevent such a scenario.  It would appear that the company did not meet these requirements at the time. 
  • The Assistant Commissioner was, however, satisfied with the actions the company had since taken to ensure that information is properly protected – actions which were in keeping with Principles 4.7 and 4.7.1.

Accordingly, she concluded that the complaint was well-founded and resolved.

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