The above photos courtesy of Danny Ponomar at

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Taxi Spy Cam

So I have been doing a little investigating into whether or not I am legally allowed to put a video surveillance system (with audio) in a taxi to record events that transpire throughout the night. I have spoken with the Staff Sergeant on duty (through a third party) of the Lethbridge Police Service and was told that unless the company installs the camera I would be violating the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).

What does the company installing the camera have anything to do with it being legal or illegal? I am a contract driver and receive no paycheck or compensation from the taxi company. I pay the company to operate a vehicle. I have my own business licence and can claim expenses so why can I not choose for myself whether or not a recorded video surveillance system is appropriate?

I briefly spoke to three lawyers today and none of them would really provide me with a definite answer. They pretty much said they did not think it was a problem unless I distributed the content of the video (which I disclosed I was intending on doing). A certain lawyer referred me to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta where I was able to find more information on the FOIP act and more specifically the "Guidelines for Overt Video Surveillance in the Private Sector".

"Private sector privacy laws require that organizations’ need to conduct video surveillance must be balanced with the individuals’ right to privacy, which includes the right lead their lives free from scrutiny. Given its inherent intrusiveness, organizations should consider all less privacy-invasive means of achieving the same end before resorting to video surveillance. "

Commenting on the above it would be hard to lead a life free from scrutiny if someone at your office found a video of you picking up drugs and hookers in a taxi.

From my understanding of the guidelines it would be legal to install video surveillance in a taxi but the video must not record audio and must be properly destroyed soon after. Also people need to be informed that they are on camera.

This is all fine and dandy for security purposes but not for the purpose of distributing the content of the video (such as on this blog).

I think the only way I would be able to post videos of taxi rides would be to have oral or written consent from the passengers at the time of the recording. The Personal Information Protection Act states: 8(1) An individual may give his or her consent in writing or orally to the collection, use or disclosure of personal information about the individual.

I think it would be difficult to convince someone who has probably done something illegal or completely stupid to consent to the distribution of the recorded video. I would be scared to ask.

Consequences: From the Privacy Protection Act

"In addition, the act allows for fines of up to $10,000 for individuals who:
• willfully collect, use or disclose personal information in violation of the privacy protection part of the act,
• make a false statement to, or mislead the Commissioner, or his officers or any other person under the act,
• fail to comply with a commissioner's order, or"

In conclusion: Some laws are meant to be broken, maybe not this one.

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