An employee's union complained on his behalf that the company had installed a video camera in the locker room at one of its plants, and that the employee had been videoed. The union was concerned that employees had not been notified before the camera was installed and that only managers at the site knew about its installation and operation. The union believed that the company's actions amounted to an interference with the employee's privacy.
The complaint raised issues under information privacy principles 1, 3 and 4. After investigating, I formed the opinion that the company's actions had not breached those principles.
An agency which collects information must satisfy a number of criteria in order to comply with this principle. First, the collection must be for a lawful purpose. Second, that purpose must be connected with a function or activity of that agency. Finally, the collection must be necessary for that purpose.
The company told me that its purpose in installing the video camera was to identify the person or people responsible for thefts from employees' lockers at the plant. It also had a wider purpose in preventing thefts generally at the site. This could be inferred from the notice displayed at the entrance to the site, advising that people might be subject to random stops, and that hidden cameras might operate on the site.
The company said that, because past warnings to staff about recent thefts had been unsuccessful in preventing further thefts, it had decided to try to identify the thief.
I was satisfied that the company had a lawful purpose in installing the camera in attempting to prevent theft from its staff and premises. I was also satisfied that in order to identify who was responsible, and to take action, it was necessary to be able to identify the thief or thieves in an independent and objective way. I was persuaded that the use of a camera was, in these circumstances, the only way that the company's purpose could have been achieved because of the lack of success in gathering evidence when thefts had occurred previously.
Principle 3(1) provides that where an agency collects information directly from the individual concerned it must take reasonable steps to ensure that the individual is aware of a number of matters. In particular, the individual must be made aware of the fact of collection.
Principle 3(2) provides that the requirements under principle 3(1) must be taken before the information is collected or, if that is not practicable, as soon as practicable after the information is collected. Principle 3(4)(d) provides an exception to principle 3(1) if the agency believes on reasonable grounds that compliance would prejudice the purposes of the collection.
I considered whether the signage at the entrance to the plant was sufficient to have satisfied the requirement under principle 3(1) to advise employees that information was being collected. I noted that the sign was a general warning and that employees would not expect that hidden cameras would operate in a locker room. However, I was satisfied that the exception under principle 3(4)(d) was applicable.
Taking account of the company's purpose in installing the video camera, I was persuaded that to have advised employees using that locker room that cameras were operating would have defeated the objective of using them: namely to identify the individual responsible for the thefts. In reaching that conclusion I noted that, although it was not practicable to advise the employee that information about him was being collected by the video camera, he was told of this as soon as the company was satisfied that he was the person responsible for the thefts and that it intended to take action against him.
Principle 4 relates to the manner in which information is collected. It requires that personal information must not be collected by unlawful means or by means which in the circumstances are unfair or intrude unreasonably into the individual's personal affairs.
I did not consider that it was unlawful for the company to film activities taking place in its own premises. Nor did I consider it unfair to have filmed the locker room when there had been previous thefts and a request had been made of management that it find the culprit. It seemed to me that the issue was whether the filming was unreasonably intrusive.
Despite the fact the video was operating in an area where workers were changing from their street clothes into sterile outfits, I was satisfied that the filming did not constitute an unreasonable intrusion into the employees' personal privacy. In reaching this conclusion I took into account the fact that the video did not capture activities in the shower or toilet area; it was activated only by movement near the target locker; it needed to be able to record faces so as to identify the person responsible, and it was in operation for only as long as was necessary to identify the culprit clearly so that the company could take action against him.
I advised the worker of my opinions and of his right to take the matter to Human Rights Review Tribunal. I then closed the file.
Indexing terms: Collecting personal information Employer Surveillance camera in locker room Detection of theft Lawful purpose Information privacy principle 1
Collecting personal information Employer Surveillance camera in locker room Detection of theft Disclosing fact of installation of camera not reasonably practicable and would prejudice purpose of collection Employee advised as soon as identification established Information privacy principle 3(2) and 3(4)(d)
Collecting personal information Employer Surveillance camera in locker room Detection of theft Installation lawful and not unfair Extent of surveillance minimal Surveillance did not intrude unreasonably and did not cover shower and toilet areas Information privacy principle 4