If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

We truly do live under a constant state of surveillance. In this day and age, it is impossible to make it more than a few blocks without being caught on multiple Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras. As an active Security Guard and Dispatcher, I have experience many sides of the surveillance world in Vancouver’s Downtown core. However, how much surveillance is too much surveillance? Where do we draw the line between security and privacy?

The job of a security guard is typically described as “observe and report,” and essentially, that is all there really is to the job. Security contract sites can house hundreds of cameras operational at the fingertips of one or multiple security professionals. These cameras trend from a simple, low resolution, black and white, non-moveable camera through to cameras with 360° viewing with a resolution capable of zooming in and reading a newspaper from over a football field’s distance away. With all this in mind, the general public does tend to make outrageous assumptions about possible invasions of privacy when details such as this are made public. Truth is however, technology, as good as it is, has its faults. For example, cameras with such an impeccable zoom capability, such as the camera described above, are usually placed in locations that may utilize such capabilities. These locations would include large open spaces with major foot traffic. Usually, cameras covering such large spaces are zoomed out as far as possible in order to capture the largest possible view of the space in question. Unless an individual arouses significant suspicion or is in the process of carrying out a crime that security has caught on to, these cameras are never utilized to their full capabilities. Once a recording has been captured, its picture quality is stagnant resulting in poor quality if a zoom is required on the recording. All in all, however obvious something may seem to us despite its poor quality after zooming, such video would never be accepted to stand up in court. Additionally, if a camera is zoomed out to cover a significant expanse of an area, unless the incident occurs directly in front of the camera, the recorded objects in question will also be too small and far less to detailed to be considered sufficient evidence within a court of law. In conclusion of camera quality, there is a significant tendency for people to forget just how reliable these resources are. When push comes to shove in the conviction of an individual, camera footage as evidence is more than likely to fail its ultimate test. Thus, making such “amazing” camera equipment only suitable for security-like “observe and report” cases, and not as legitimate evidence to be held up in court. Keep in mind however; it all comes down to the interpretations of a judge and jury.

Now that this myth has been somewhat quashed, we can visit the question: how much surveillance is too much surveillance? Coming from relevant security experience, I can safely say it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that an individual minding his own business, walking along a downtown street, can be watched carefully from one corner of a site to another with an expanse of several city blocks. Now imagine how many security sites exist throughout an entire city like Vancouver. What would happen to our view of privacy if one source, like the police, had direct access to live feeds and/or the recordings from all these sites combined? State of Surveillance (2014) thinks this type of environment could be just around the corner stating that police may eventually be able to track our moves, all day, everyday, without any warrants necessary. Would you consider this an invasion or your privacy or a form of spying? Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:

Section 8

            Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure

Evidence in relation to Section 8 may be in violation of our basic rights assuming that such surveillance from a localized source constituted an unreasonable search. Additionally, the Privacy Act provides us with “a right of access to information held about [us] by the federal government…” This could be used in the argument that such mass surveillance may have to be accessible to the public if it involves them. All in all, how secure is the storage of such surveillance? And who is going to be capable of seeing it?

In conclusion, such mass surveillance may help in lowering crime and convicting offenders. However, the unreliability of the quality of cameras cannot be overstated. With this in mind, the institution of a mass surveillance source to be used by the state/police could result in more cases being overturned due to Charter violations of unreasonable searches. Is such mass surveillance worth the possible risks and rewards in Canadian law? I guess if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.


State of Surveillance: Police, Privacy and Technology


1 Comment

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One response to “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

  1. This is an interesting post. I welcome your comments based on your own lived experiences.

    I am not sure that your account has quashed any myth, however. It has provided a valuable perspective on the limitations and implications of CCTV technologies. Current debates about the privacy implications of surveillance do not focus on this sort of practice. Rather, they focus on ‘dataveillance’ and the monitoring of personal information and communications.

    Your concluding paragraph effectively engages with the implications of ‘surveillant assemblages’. Many surveillance scholars note that the real impact of surveillance technologies is not associated with their use for their original (intended) purpose. It is their integration with larger networks of surveillance that is cause for concern.

    I absolutely disagree with your position that ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’. This is not a position that is compatible with a healthy democracy.