Archive for the ‘Surveillance’ Category

3 Jun 2011

Insights on Privacy – Privacy, Surveillance, and Public Safety

On June 23rd, 2011, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is holding the fourth Insights on Privacy armchair discussion. We heard in April about opportunities for privacy in the design of intimate devices that we share our lives with every day, like smart phones, and the sensor-rich landscape that’s upon us.

To complement this talk, we’ve invited David Murakami-Wood and Craig Forcese to examine the privacy risks in a society that is placing its citizens under greater surveillance with each passing year.

David Murakami Wood is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Queen’s University and holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Surveillance Studies. Until August 2009, he was Reader in Surveillance Studies in the Global Urban Research Unit at Newcastle University in the UK. He had an ESRC Research Fellowship for a project called Cultures of Urban Surveillance, which looked at the globalization of surveillance in different global cities. David is a member of The Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s and is part of The New Transparency research initiative. He is also Managing Editor of Surveillance & Society, the international journal of surveillance studies, and a founder-member of the Surveillance Studies Network.

Craig Forcese, LL.M, has been an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa since 2003. Previously, he practiced international trade law with Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP in Washington D.C., representing clients in proceedings before the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. International Trade Commission, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the World Trade Organization. He also served as a law clerk for Mr. Justice Andrew MacKay at the Federal Court of Canada. Craig is the author of a number of books on law and national security, and a frequent blogger.

To participate:

If you are unable to attend the session in person, and would like the speakers to address a particular aspect of this topic, please send your question to by June 20th and we will try to incorporate it in the issues we cover. You are also invited to tweet the content using the #privtalks hashtag, whether attending in person or not.

The video of this event will be made available after the presentation, as we’ve done for previous Speakers Series events.

Space is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please RSVP before June 20, 2011. Simultaneous interpretation for both official languages will be available.

When: 2:00-4:00 p.m. Thursday, June 23, 2011
Where: Minto Suites Hotel, 185 Lyon Street North, 2nd Floor, Salon Vanier/Stanley


29 Mar 2011

Insights on Privacy – Adam Greenfield and Aza Raskin

On April 20th, 2011, our Office is holding the third Insights on Privacy armchair discussion. We heard in February about what motivates us to reveal or conceal details of our personal lives, and how we protect the private lives of others around us.

To complement this talk, we’ve invited tech innovators Adam Greenfield (@agpublic) and Aza Raskin (@azaaza) to explore opportunities for privacy in the design of intimate devices, like smart phones, that we share our lives with every day, to the sensor-rich landscape that’s upon us. We’ll discuss opportunities for companies to empower individuals with greater choice and control over how their data are used and for greater collaboration within and across industry sectors.

In his 2006 book Everyware, Adam Greenfield argued that we were headed for a world in which keeping the boundaries between different roles in our lives was going to prove untenable. That notion is coming to pass with the current debate over the public/private divide and the blurring of our various roles and reputations online. Adam was Nokia‘s head of design direction for user interface and services from 2008 to 2010 and Lead Information Architect at Razorfish Tokyo. His current projects through Urbanscale focus on improving how users experience technology, such as stored-value cards for public transit and many other “smart-city” initiatives.

Aza Raskin’s passion for improving the way we experience technology recently had him heading up user experience for Mozilla, developer of the popular Firefox browser, where he rethought and simplified conventional approaches to privacy policies. Raskin left Mozilla in late 2010 to launch the start-up Massive Health, with the goal of helping people improve control of their health through innovatively designed technology and the ways we interact with it.

The video of this event will be made available after the event, as we did for the December 10, 2010 event with Jesse Hirsh and Chris Soghoian and for the February 28, 2011 event with Christena Nippert-Eng and Alessandro Acquisti.

Space is limited and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please RSVP before April 15, 2011. Simultaneous interpretation for both official languages will be available.

When: 2:00-4:00 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Where: Minto Suites Hotel, 185 Lyon Street North, 2nd Floor, Salon Vanier/Stanley


7 Sep 2010

Know a Young Person Who’d Like to Win an iPad?

We’re launching our 2010 My Privacy & Me Video Contest for 12-18-year-olds – and the first-place winners will win an iPad!

It’s the same thing this year – but a little different, too! Again, we’re asking them to create their own public service announcements about privacy. But this year, we’d like the videos to fall into one of four categories: Surveillance; Reputation Management; Targeted Advertising; or Online Scams. You can find all contest details here.

This year, teams can consist of one to three people. First-place winners in each category will win an iPad. Second-place winners will win a $200 gift card; and third-place winners will win a $100 gift card. We’ve recognized top-participating schools and teachers in the past, and we have something in store for them in 2010! The deadline is December 10, 2010.

For inspiration, sit down with your young ones and watch the 2009 winning videos. Then, have them start exercising their video-making muscles – we can’t wait to see what they’ve got!

18 Jun 2010

Girl chewing gum

Last month, I featured a film of a streetscape in San Francisco originally shot during the first years of the twentieth century. In that post, I suggested that this film represented one of the first demonstrations of public surveillance, and highlighted how individuals in the film had subverted the process by behaving in exhibitionistic or privacy-protective ways.

“girl chewing gum” is a similar work – a continuous film of a city street, at a point during 1976 in a rather plain part of East London.

This time, however, a soundtrack is overlaid to create the illusion that the pedestrians within the frame are being given stage instructions by the ostensible director, John Smith.

This pretense begins to fall apart as the film progresses, but it serves to remind us that any film is subject to interpretation and misinterpretation. The eye of the beholder is naturally informed by personal experience, rough class distinctions reinforced by clothing and gait, social and economic bias, among many other factors.

Notably, the director’s ability to anticipate a pedestrian’s behavior is limited by his range of vision, and his false stage directions are influenced by his ability to rewind and review.

In any case, his film reflects bare moments in the life of each pedestrian, ignorant of their thoughts, the impulse that led to their walking down Stamford Road,or their eventual destination.

Thanks to Joe Moran for pointing out the film’s appearance online.

7 May 2010

The dawn of public camera surveillance

The dawn of public camera surveillance - San Francisco
It’s a snapshot from the very first days of public camera surveillance – a streetcar slowly moves down San Francisco’s Market Street sometime in 1905 or 1906*, toting a camera at its very front. Produced by local film makers the Miles Brothers, it appears to offer a relatively unvarnished look at the street life of the time.

Commentary from Library of Congress archivists, who restored the film nearly forty years ago, noted that some of the streetscape was staged:

“… a careful tracking of automobile traffic shows that almost all of the autos seen circle around the camera/cable car many times (one ten times). This traffic was apparently staged by the producer to give Market Street the appearance of a prosperous modern boulevard with many automobiles …”

Nevertheless, the behaviour of the many pedestrians offers some insight into early reaction to the presence of a camera in public. In the opening minutes of the film, the camera does not seem to affect behaviour on the street. Some gentlemen preen and pose as they spot the camera, but most go about their business. There are some expressions of surprise, as even a camera is a novelty for the time. Some seem to be upset that the streetcar, despite the camera, will not stop to pick them up.

The longer the camera travels down the street, though, the more blatant the behaviour change. I’ve clipped a few stills from the film to illustrate these points:

  • Some, expecting the streetcar to stop for their signal, were perplexed
  • One man noticed the camera, then tilted his hat and sped up to avoid having his face captured on film
  • Several car loads of men appear and reappear throughout the film
  • One man notices the camera, stops to have his image recorded, then runs farther down the street so he can stand directly in the path of the streetcar for several seconds.
  • Children, of course, dart in an out of the frame. At the very end of the film, a handful of kids seize control of the scene.

Consider the very different results when a similar film was made in Vancouver, in 1907: the filmmaker spoke to the local newspapers about his plans and actively encouraged citizens to step into the frame. The result?

“… the Vancouver Province reported that “many prominent citizens were suddenly stricken with kinetoscopitis yesterday” and reassured readers that “kinetoscopitis is not nearly as serious in its effects as spinal meningitis.” The article observed that “the way that prominent citizens suddenly discovered that they had business on the other side of the street and strolled across sort of unconcerned like, when they saw the kinetoscope coming was very amusing to those on the front of the car.”

In contrast, public surveillance is very much expected today. Just look at a Google Maps mashup, created yesterday, of the locations from which members of the public filmed the tasing of a Phillies baseball fan chased across the field at Citizens Bank Park – and then posted that footage online.

*see more on the debate about the film’s date at the SFGate blog. Recent research suggests this film was shot just days before the 1906 earthquake – which destroyed much of Market Street.

**did you see the guy on a horse?

3 May 2010

Transparency, search engines and government appetite for data

There has been a long-standing debate between privacy advocates and government officials about the extent of government interest in the information transmitted across domestic and international networks. The passage of USA PATRIOT Act intensified this debate and prompted concern from a more general audience as well. Ever since, the digerati and online crowd have been whispering and wondering about the interface between search engines, particularly Google, and law enforcement and national security bodies.

In brief, this comes up in classrooms and at conferences in roughly the following exchange:

Q. “So, should I worry about what Google knows about me?”

A. “Maybe, but I’d worry more about what the government gets out of Google, then matches with what they already know about you.”

Around this issue, researchers like Chris Soghoian in the US (as well as Ben Hayes and Simon Davies overseas) have been pushing for greater transparency from both companies and government on the use of broad data production powers.  Last week, to their great credit, Google took a big first step and published an interactive map on the numbers and types of data requests they recieve from governments around the world.  This coincides with another important US private sector push – – that is asking for clear, consistent and accountable measures to be put in place when government ask companies to ‘check up’ on their customers.

We commend Google and others involved for this significant first step, look forward to improvements and more details as they tweak the reporting model and sincerely hope other companies (and, ahem! governments) follow suit.

8 Mar 2010

We have our winners!

Once again, students from the Encounters with Canada program have selected the winners of our annual student video contest! Here are the winners for our 2009 competition:

The three top video artists in the live action category were:

1st place: Jeffery Burge, Vanessa Caicedo, Alexandra Georgaras, Gareth Imrie and Fiona Sauder of Canterbury High School in Ottawa, Ontario, with a video titled “Think Before You Click”. They win a $100 gift card and an iPod Touch.

2nd place: David Borish and Mory Kaba of Glebe Collegiate Institute in Ottawa, Ontario, with a video titled “Friend or Foe”. They win a $250 gift card.

3rd place: Jennifer Paul from Brampton, Ontario, with a video titled “Too Good to be True”. She wins a $150 gift card.

The three top video artists in the animation category were:

1st place: Tyler Ford and Matthew Kerr of Osgoode Township High School in Metcalfe, Ontario, with a video titled “Privacy: Think Before You Click”. They win a $100 gift card and an iPod Touch.

2nd place: Rebecca Kartzmart and Emily Patterson of Osgoode Township High School in Metcalfe, Ontario, with a video titled “Carol the Carrot”. They win a $250 gift card.

3rd place: Scott Piper of Osgoode Township High School in Metcalfe, Ontario, with a video titled “Privacy Matters”. He wins a $150 gift card.

The three top video artists in the French video category were:

1st place: Benjamin Dion-Weiss of l’École secondaire publique De La Salle in Ottawa, Ontario, with a video titled “Le réseautage social d’après le Comte Hackula”. He wins a $100 gift card and an iPod Touch.

2nd place: Stéphanie Lemieux and Emily Vendette of l’École secondaire catholique Embrun in Embrun, Ontario, with a video titled “Le Journal de Lisa”. They win a $250 gift card.

3rd place: Cosmo Darwin of l’École secondaire publique De La Salle in Ottawa, Ontario, with a video titled “Trouvée & Perdu”. He wins a $150 gift card.

The three top video artists in the Junior category were:

1st place: Mackenzie Giffen, Chris Johnstone, Chris Nattrass, Curtis Sookhoo and Gabriel Zingle of F.R. Haythorne Junior High in Sherwood Park, Alberta, with a video titled “The Spanish Lottery”. They win a $100 gift card and an iPod Touch.

2nd place: Trevor Aiello, Connor Bergersen, Chad Bullock and Lochlan Thomson of F.R. Haythorne Junior High in Sherwood Park, Alberta, with a video titled “A lesson In Privacy”. They win a $250 gift card.

3rd place: Matthew Craner, Scott Deshane, Madison Gilchrist, Joe Matishak and Graeme Wyatt of F.R. Haythorne Junior High in Sherwood Park, Alberta, with a video titled “The Phone Number Test”. They win a $150 gift card.

We also recognized seven teachers for their enthusiastic participation in the contest. They were:

  • Crystal Getschel, of F.R. Haythorne Junior High in Sherwood Park, Alberta, with 26 entries.
  • Majed Mattar, of Osgoode Township High School in Metcalfe, Ontario, with 21 entries.
  • Professor Kaduri, of Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, Ontario, with 15 entries.
  • Grant Holmes, of École secondaire publique De La Salle, Ottawa, Ontario, with 11 entries.
  • Carol Shaw, of Woodstock Collegiate Institute, Woodstock, Ontario, with 8 entries.
  • Kevin Shae, of Sir Robert Borden High School, Ottawa, Ontario with 6 entries.
  • Stephen Willcock, of Canterbury High School, Ottawa, Ontario, with 5 entries.

Each teacher will receive a $250 gift certificate at Indigo Books and Music to use for personal use or for the school they represent.

The videos will be posted as soon as possible to our youth site. They will also be available on our YouTube channel.

We were thrilled with the number and quality of submissions we received for our second competition. We’ll be launching the 2010 contest in May!

5 Nov 2009

Lavapies – one neighbourhood battles surveillance

I had the chance earlier this week to attend The Public Voice, a conference in Madrid to help civil society groups share their work and their points of view on important privacy issues.


One presentation highlighted un barrio feliz – a community led project to protest and undermine the closed circuit surveillance cameras slowly rolling out across Madrid’s neighbourhoods.

This particular effort is a response to the 48 cameras that are being installed in Lavapies, a downtown neighbourhood sometimes criticised for its low-rent atmosphere and late night escort business.

The presenter, David, made a point of noting that the Madrid municipal government has presented different excuses for the cameras, based on individual neighbourhoods.

Around the Puerta del Sol, a popular tourist area, the cameras were installed to deter pickpockets. In Lavapies, the cameras are apparently needed to deter the escorts.

This summer, a local campaign was pulled together to protest the closed circuit surveillance. As part of the campaign, artists and activists designed 37 posters and images that criticise the initiative.

While there are many familiar themes among the images (which, in itself, is a depressing statement for a privacy advocate), there are two that play off the colours and graphics used to support Madrid’s recent 2016 Olympic bid. Here is one (the other is a little rude):

lavapies grabado

These images remind us of similar measures being put in place to ensure security during Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games – measures we have followed with interest.

The rest of the images can be found on a common flickr page, and they’re all CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.

25 Sep 2009

You Might Be Interested In

Privacy and the 2010 Olympics – some resources

13 Aug 2009

Personal experiences with security theatre

“Security theatre.” The concept is easy to understand. Members of the public will feel more secure if there are obvious signs that an organization or their government is taking steps to protect them from threats real and imagined.

This is especially true if these threats are new – the attacks of 9/11 helped to usher in a new set piece in North America featuring pervasive surveillance, recurring identity verification on a technological and personal level, and more frequent interactions between the public and security agents from public and private organizations.

This type of theatre is particularly effective in times of crisis, when the threat seems more immediate, and seems capable of affecting a segment of society rather than simply an individual. As a result of past crises, governments have put in place proposals that have led to increased identification requirements, greater surveillance powers, frequent intrusion into their personal lives and restriction in the activities they can undertake without challenge from authorities.

As individuals, though, we constantly come across moments that pull back the curtain to expose the machinery. These prompt us to question the usefulness to an individual security measure, if not an entire security strategy.

There is a small but relevant example in our own building. The landlords have recently installed a number of surveillance cameras capable of panning over every square inch of the public space in our building. There are even multiple cameras in each of the enclosed emergency stairwells.

If we assume that the landlord has implemented these cameras as a result of a security audit, where known and potential threats suggested that a level of risk, then we might just suffer the constant monitoring of our activities in the building.

But what if one of these cameras was evidently broken? I’ve passed by the same camera, located in a remote corner of the building, seven times in the last week. The plastic dome that protects the lens and rotating assembly has fallen off. I’ve reported the problem to security twice. After the first report, they obviously tried to replace the dome – with electrical tape. That failed, and the dome has been lying on the ground for the past five days.

Now, this isn’t the biggest problem that could beset a technologically advanced security camera, but its continuing condition does lead to three questions:

  1. Why can’t someone take the time to repair it properly?
  2. If they don’t need to repair it, do they need it to be operational?
  3. If it doesn’t need to be operational, why does the camera need to be there at all?

I think we’ve all had a similar experience at some time, where it becomes obvious that there is more concern in having security equipment or procedures in place than ensuring they work effectively.

Or am I wrong? Have you?