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Federal Court upholds video surveillance of employees
August 12, 2004

The Federal Court of Canada recently rejected the claim that an employer violated the federal Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA“) when it installed six surveillance cameras in general access and parking areas. The complaint was initially filed with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who recommended that the cameras be removed. The complainant then applied to the Federal Court for an order compelling the company to comply with the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendation.

In order to determine whether the video surveillance violated the PIPEDA, the Commissioner had applied the following four-part test:

  • the surveillance must be demonstrably necessary to meet a specific need;
  • the surveillance must be likely to be effective in meeting that need;
  • the loss of privacy must be proportional to the benefit gained; and
  • the existence of any less privacy-invasive methods of meeting the need must be considered.

In applying this test, the Privacy Commissioner concluded that the employer had not demonstrated that a real and specific problem justified the surveillance.

The Federal Court adopted the four-part test, but reached a different conclusion concerning the appropriateness of the surveillance cameras. In ruling that the use of video surveillance was justified, the Court made reference to the numerous incidents of vandalism, theft, and sexual harassment of female employees that had occurred at the workplace. Given these facts, the Court concluded that “a reasonable person would consider [the] purposes for collecting…the images of [the] employees and others on video camera appropriate in the circumstances.”

The Court emphasized that the employees knew where the cameras were located, and that “the loss of privacy was minimal” and “proportional to the benefit gained.” The Court also accepted the employer’s evidence that alternatives to video surveillance were not cost effective. As a result, the Court held that the video surveillance was not a violation of the PIPEDA and the application was dismissed.

Eastmond and Canadian Pacific Railway and Privacy Commissioner of Canada, [2004] F.C.J. No. 1043, 2004 FC 852, June 11, 2004