VICTORIA – British Columbia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner has launched a public education initiative about video surveillance in the private sector.

“January 28 is Data Privacy Day, an international celebration to show that privacy matters in today’s digital world,” said Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “To mark the occasion, we are educating British Columbians about a simple and widely used technology with significant implications for privacy.”

The use of video surveillance by the private sector has exploded in recent years. Widely believed to be a security and crime prevention tool, advances in the technology provide opportunities for businesses to monitor consumer behaviour and identify people through facial recognition software.

“We’re focusing on the private sector – and the retail sector in particular – because we believe many such businesses are unaware of the obligations created by their use of video surveillance, including their obligation to notify customers about surveillance and its purpose, and to minimize the impact on personal privacy.”

“Just because the technology is available doesn’t mean its right for every business. Under the Personal Information Protection Act, companies must have a defined problem that the surveillance is designed to address, and customers must be notified before they are captured on camera,” said Denham.

The first step of the OIPC’s education initiative is a survey of B.C.-based retailers to uncover how many companies are aware of their obligations to protect personal information under provincial law. The survey results will inform future education, outreach and enforcement work in the sector.

“There is no question that technology has changed the face of our world. But it has not displaced the value of privacy. Citizens expect their personal information to be protected and their privacy rights respected. I will continue to raise public awareness about the right to privacy in the digital age, and provide organizations with practical tools to fulfill their obligation to protect privacy,” said Denham.