Video recording in the workplace at correctional institutions consistent with the Privacy Act
Complaint under the Privacy Act (the “Act”)
June 9, 2019
We received three complaints alleging that Correctional Service Canada (CSC) was using video footage collected for security purposes to monitor employee performance. We found that in the cases in question, the video footage had been used to identify systemic deficiencies in order to improve the quality of the patrols and prevent deaths, in the wake of a death of an inmate. It was therefore consistent with the purpose of collection, i.e., security.
- Government institutions must take care to ensure that video surveillance is only used for the purpose for which it was collected or for a consistent use, unless a specific exemption under Section 8(2) of the Privacy Act applies or the individual has consented.
Our Office received three complaints alleging that Correctional Service Canada (“CSC”) was using video footage to monitor employee performance in contravention of the use provisions of the Privacy Act (“the Act”).
CSC acknowledged that it used video footage to investigate and respond to security incidents within an institution. However, it denied that the footage was used to monitor employee performance.
After reviewing the available evidence and conducting a site visit to observe how CSC uses video footage, we determined that the complaints were not well-founded. The reasons for this finding are outlined below.
The complainants alleged that CSC improperly used their personal information when a correctional manager reviewed video footage of their patrols. According to the complainants, the correctional manager was using the video to monitor employee performance. The complainants provided emails written by the correctional manager, which include comments on video footage of their respective patrols, to support their claims. The complainants argued that this use of video contravened both the use provisions of the Privacy Act and section 9 of Commissioner’s Directive 568-8.
In making our determination, we considered sections 3 and 7 of the Act. Section 3 of the Act defines personal information as information about an identifiable individual that is recorded in any form including, without restricting the generality of the foregoing: information relating to race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, marital status, education, medical, criminal or employment history, financial transactions, identifying numbers, fingerprints, blood type, personal opinions, etc.
The information at issue was video footage of the complainants at work. Although some information related to the complainants’ respective positions and functions within a government institution did not fall within the scope of the definition of personal information defined by the Act, the video footage captured additional information, such as the complainants’ appearance and mannerisms: this constitutes personal information as defined by the Act.
Paragraph 7(a) of the Act states that personal information shall not, without the consent of the individual to whom it relates, be used by the institution except for the purpose for which the information was obtained or compiled by the institution or for a use consistent with that purpose. Paragraph 7(b) allows use without consent for a purpose authorized under subsection 8(2).
CSC confirmed that a correctional manager reviewed video footage of the complainants’ patrols. According to CSC, its purpose for collection of personal information via video is to maintain the security of institutions and to investigate incidents (such as violence, allegations made against staff, overdoses, etc.).
At issue, therefore, was whether the use of video footage in these instances was for these stated purposes, or for a use consistent with those purposes, as required by paragraph 7(a) of the Act.
In interviews, CSC officials explained that prior to the review of the footage, there had been a death of an inmate in custody. The investigation of the death revealed deficiencies in the patrol of the area in which the death occurred. According to CSC officials, these deficiencies had a direct impact on CSC’s ability to respond to the situation that led to the inmate’s death.
In response to the findings of the investigation of the death, CSC created an action plan to address the identified deficiencies. Reviewing video of random patrols from a limited time period was one component of this plan. According to CSC, the purpose of viewing the video was to identify systemic deficiencies in order to improve the general quality of the patrols to prevent similar deaths from occurring.
The correctional manager tasked with reviewing the video also provided feedback to employees whose patrols were reviewed. The feedback included positive reinforcement (“good patrol”) as well as the identification of deficiencies (not using proper equipment, timing of patrols, interactions with inmates, etc.) that required improvement. This was done via email on an informal basis.
Our privacy investigators conducted a site visit at the penal institution in order to review the use of video surveillance and to observe the area in which the patrols were conducted. During the site visit, the privacy investigators: (i) Confirmed what information was collected by the video surveillance equipment; (ii) Observed what was required during a patrol to verify the well-being of an inmate given the conditions (size of cell window, lighting, sight-lines, etc.); and (iii) Verified that the institution did not review patrol footage on an ongoing basis.
In light of the above, we accepted CSC’s position that the purpose of reviewing the video and providing informal feedback in these cases was not to monitor employee performance, but rather, for the purpose of ensuring inmate security. Specifically we accepted that the video footage of the complainants was used: (i) to determine if systemic issues related to the quality of patrols were contributing to conditions in the institution which were believed to have contributed to a death in custody, and (ii) to improve the general quality of the patrols to prevent similar deaths from occurring.
In light of the above, the complaints were not well-founded.
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