Covert surveillance and you

Private investigators want to watch you

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner issued guidelines to the private sector in May 2010 to protect people against covert video surveillance. Now the private investigators are saying that the insurance industry needs to disregard the directive.

The concern is that when you are dealing with fraud then the right to defend and the right to investigate is held to a higher level than a person's right to privacy of their image in a public place.

State Farm Insurance has challenged the Privacy Commissioner's jurisdiction over fraud investigations. The question is that personal information collected during insurance investigations falls outside the scope of the Canadian private sector privacy law. This would include video surveillance tapes and reports.

A complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner from a person being investigated by an insurance company came about when the insurance company refused to provide the person with the information gathered about him.

The insurance company, State Farm, has asked the court to order that the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) does not apply to the privacy interests of the man under surveillance. There was an earlier challenge this year to the authority of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

The earlier case involved a mother and daughter who were videotaped during covert surveillance of the mother's sister. The mother's sister had started legal proceedings against her insurance company in regards to her benefits following a car accident. This complaint was determined to be well-founded and the privacy commissioner recommended that the firm ether depersonalize or remove third parties caught in the video without their consent.

Further to this recommendation the privacy commissioner also found that the collection, disclosure or use of personal information about third parties without their consent is only acceptable in certain, specific situations. An example would be when the information is relevant to the purpose of the collection of information about the subject of the surveillance.

When the firm refused to implement the recommendations the privacy commissioner declined to bring an application to Federal Court to have this enforced. Now we see a push towards having the insurance companies challenge the recommendations.

At this point the guidelines are in force. If insurance investigators do successfully challenge then you may find yourself on "Candid Camera". A suspicion of fraud is not a conviction. There could be many who would be offended by such surveillance.