September 05, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Security measures 

Two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are we facing another assault?

Page 5 of 6

Video monitoring is another security measure that has become more common following 9/11, although it had been growing in popularity prior to the terrorist attacks.

The attraction of video monitoring is easily understood. People are less likely to misbehave if they know they are being watched, and as police and security resources in most communities are stretched video is a cheap alternative. A reduction in thefts of ski equipment on Whistler and Blackcomb in recent years would seem to be evidence of the effectiveness of video monitoring.

But some maintain there is a difference between video monitoring of a specific area for a specific purpose and video monitoring a large public space where any number of activities – most of them likely legal – can be expected to occur. Edmonton Journal columnist Lorne Gunter recently argued that video monitoring "turns the presumption of innocence on its head…"

"By their very nature, the cameras are an infringement of our ancient right to be free from scrutiny unless we have given authorities reason to suspect us and until they have provided a magistrate with enough evidence to convince him they are justified in watching us. The infringement begins, without a hearing, the second the lens snaps on and our images flicker onto the monitor’s screen," Gunther wrote.

Radwanski last summer launched an action to declare the RCMP’s video surveillance activities in Kelowna unconstitutional as a violation of the Canadian Charter or Rights and Freedoms. The appeal was withdrawn by new Privacy Commissioner Robert Marleau in July, but a press release announcing the withdrawal stated "… the Commissioner and his office continue to have a variety of concerns regarding video surveillance of public places by public authorities…"

The issue, again, is the collection of information on individuals for no specific purpose, although it could be used in many ways.

On the surface video monitoring and national I.D. cards seem far removed from the Anti-Terrorism Act and other measures invoked in the name of security after Sept. 11. But, the importance of the right to privacy cannot be over-emphasized.

Radwanski’s credibility suffered when he was forced out of the Privacy Commissioner’s office earlier this year in a spending scandal, but his understanding of what privacy means and his ability to convey that message is not lost. Speaking to the Canadian Community Newspaper Association about "the defining issue of this decade" earlier this year Radwanski noted that privacy is a fundamental human right, recognized as such by the United Nations. It’s sometimes described as the right from which all freedoms flow.

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