Don’t let home security cameras point at the street: Ontario privacy commissioner

Ontario's privacy commissioner is asking Hamilton to back away from a proposed bylaw change that would allow homeowners to point security cameras at the street.

A city committee recently endorsed a motion from Coun. Sam Merulla to study changing an existing bylaw with the goal of aiding police investigations. The current "fortifications" bylaw bans residential cameras from pointing anywhere other than the homeowner's property.

Merulla and Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, also the city's police board chair, argued home security footage is an increasingly crucial investigative tool, pointing to footage that helped police track down the people who murdered Ancaster's Tim Bosma.

But privacy commissioner Brian Beamish wrote Tuesday to the city and Police Chief Eric Girt asking council to "refrain" from changing the bylaw.

"In my view, any attempt by the city to permit or encourage the use of private video surveillance cameras, for the purpose of collecting personal information to aid in law enforcement, would undermine privacy rights under (provincial privacy laws)," he wrote.

He added "The risk to privacy is particularly acute because video surveillance may, and often does, capture the personal information of law-abiding individuals going about their everyday activities."

Beamish noted in his letter he has outlined guidelines in the past for "justified, proportionate and properly managed" usage of security cameras by institutions and businesses that protects resident privacy.

But he warned those protective conditions "do not exist" under the scenario envisioned by the city.

Merulla said late Tuesday he hadn't seen the letter yet, but suggested council could "take it under advisement" as part of the proposed study.

The ward 4 councillor said he "respectfully disagrees" with the idea that street-focused security cameras represent an unacceptable invasion of privacy.

But regardless, he argued the current bylaw is "basically unenforceable" since bylaw officers need permission of residents to enter homes and view footage. "To me, if you have an unenforceable bylaw then you shouldn't have that bylaw," he said.

Council will be asked to ratify the camera study at Wednesday night's meeting.

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