By Christopher Walsh, editor
Hundreds of new cameras on C-Train platforms across the city are being heralded as improved security for passengers, but a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association questions their effectiveness for deterring serious crimes and is calling on Calgary Transit to release the privacy impact assessment study.
Kelly Ernst says studies out of England suggest CCTV systems do not deter crime the way most people might hope.
“Cameras don’t necessarily stop crime,” said Ernst. “It might be easier to identify the person who’s committed that crime, but it certainly has no deterrent effect if the experience in England [teaches us] anything.
“You would expect the same type of thing to happen here in Calgary, that there wouldn’t be a deterrent effect.”
Ernst is also concerned the new cameras might be infringing on people’s civil liberties.
The City of Calgary developed a privacy impact assessment before installing close to 500 new high-definition cameras but that document has not been released. Ernst says he has requested the documents that could answer some questions surrounding the use of information gathered by the cameras.
“It would be really interesting to see,” he said. “The issues in there would be how they’re going to store the data, or the photos or videos, how long they’ll retain them, under what circumstances they would be released, and what other technology they are using with it.”
Ernst added new technology that may be used could include facial recognition software and the possible connection to the Calgary Police Service’s database.
“It raises a whole bunch of questions,” he said. “All of those questions are not answered without that privacy impact assessment.”
Ron Collins, a spokesman for Calgary Transit, says privacy issues “have been dealt with”.
“I think the vast majority of customers would rather us be watching to keep out for their safety and security, rather than worrying about privacy issues,” he said.
Collins would not comment on the privacy impact assessment, but says he believes the system will help deter crime.
“The more the word gets out that the system has 480 cameras on it, very high-definition quality, more people will be paying close attention to that and maybe thinking twice if their considering committing a crime,” he said.
“It can be a deterrent and we’ll be able to tell over time.”
Collins added the improved camera system will provide high quality resolution photos and video and will permit for better zooming that will be monitored at Calgary Transit’s control centre.
“[We can] follow along on something that looks suspicious,” he said. Police will be called or the transit’s own security personnel will be dispatched if something is witnessed on a platform and the footage will be combed through to “capture evidence”, he added.
“We’ve already seen the results of this,” Collins said. “There’s been a number of people arrested, they’ve been captured on camera in our system. Either we have picked up a suspect as a result or the Calgary Police Service has. It’s a top notch system. It’s a world-class system. And it’s what we want to do.”
Calgary Transit coordinator of public safety and enforcement, Brian Whitelaw, did confirm late in the day that the new CCTV system does not use facial recognition software and will be kept separate from the Calgary Police Service. Footage from the new system will be kept on file for 30 days before being erased. Police can make an application to view tapes within that timeframe, he added.
“We would like to be able to provide an ability for the police to view it, but basically … they wouldn’t be able to manipulate it or download it, they’d always have to go through Transit,” Whitelaw said.
Ernst says he’s still not sold on the new cameras and is calling on Calgary Transit to release the privacy impact assessment.
“Okay, so we catch one criminal, but we’re also taking a whole bunch of pictures of innocent people. There’s a balancing act there,” he said. “When do you stop infringing on the privacy of innocent people to get the photo of one small criminal act?”
The new CCTV system cost $6 million, shared between all three levels of government.
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