Beaconsfield trashcams raise privacy concerns

By Kevin Woodhouse

Following last week’s decision by the Beaconsfield council to allocate the necessary funds to purchase garbage bins with RFIDs (Radio Frequency Identification) and install a camera on the garbage collection trucks, some concerns have been raised about the potential invasion of privacy through the use of the new system, which is scheduled to be implemented in January 2016.

The city’s new system will have a camera in the collection vehicle permitting the driver to monitor and record imagery of the trash. During the delivery sequence when the bin is loaded onto the truck, video imagery can see what is being tossed out, and also what and who is on personal property.

If an offending item such as an old electronic device like a television or toxic household waste such as paint finds its way onto the screen, a still image is taken.

“Under our new system, we want to eliminate offending garbage ending up in landfills and not the designated places they belong,” Beaconsfield Mayor Georges Bourelle told The Suburban.

The image of the offense is “then sent to Public Works and then a communication is sent to the resident. We will be keeping the records in the event of repeat offenders but the records will be kept for a short time only,” said Bourelle. What that “short time” would be was not specified and contradicted statement to reporters last week that the data will be stored indefinitently.

Bins not properly placed or damaged will also be photographed in the hopes of advising the residents so that the problem can be fixed and “the truck can go back and get the collection on the same day in most cases,” said the mayor.

When asked if the city sought a legal opinion on the privacy issue, Bourelle said that the decision to use the RFID bins “was proposed by the previous council” suggested that The Suburban should consult members of the previous council for the answer.

Bourelle confirmed that no legal opinion was sought on privacy issues. He then surprisingly suggested asking Suburban editor Beryl Wajsman his opinion on the matter because of his “apparent expertise on the issue.”

Last Monday, The Suburban’s editor spoke with director general Patrice Boileau, who also informed Wajsman that no request for legal advice pertaining to privacy and consent issues had been made by council prior to last week’s announcement.

The next day, Karen Messier, councillor and head of the city’s environment committee, released a Facebook statement citing a 2009 Supreme Court decision in R. v Patrick to justify the video surveillance of garbage on a public curb.

But the Patrick decision dealt with criminal law. The judgment deemed that it was not a violation of Mr. Patrick’s Section 8 Charter protection against “unreasonable search and seizure” for police to have taken and searched through a drug suspect’s garbage because Mr. Patrick was complaining only that the officer in question had stretched his arm over Patrick’s property line to get the garbage. The judgment did not address the civil privacy protections that we all have against unfettered video surveillance and data storage.

Messier said that discussions of a legal nature and privacy concerns “were not factored into this so we were a little taken by surprise by some of the reactions we received.”

For resident Françoise Ortuso, the idea of pictures being stored “is a violation of my privacy.”

Beaconsfield Citizens Association president Al Gardner told The Suburban that he has heard from residents on both sides of the issue, some in support of the new measures while “others see it as an invasion of privacy.”

The city of Beaconsfield will be holding an information session on the waste collection procedures on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at the Herb Linder annex adjacent to city hall. The new collection protocol will begin in the new year if no changes are made.

The Suburban editor Beryl Wajsman has obliged Mayor Bourelle’s suggestion of consulting with him on privacy and he sets out his view, and those of experts, on the law and on Beaconsfield’s initiative in his op-ed this week on page 11.

Note: Beaconsfield Citizens Association president Al Gardner pointed out that only one person will operate garbage trucks in Beaconsfield. Consequently the second paragraph of this report has been amended to reflect that fact.

Beaconsfield trash cans

Beaconsfield is watching you.

 

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