Media Releases

Drone Protest Against Illegal Video Surveillance in Public Places

December 2, 2013

TORONTO, ON – Researchers at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University, in collaboration with privacy advocates at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, will fly a sign bearing drone near the Toronto Eaton’s Centre to draw attention to the widespread illegal video surveillance of public places.

The quadcopter drone will carry a bright yellow sign reading ILLEGAL CAMERA and position it directly in front of an offending camera. The multi-sided sign will simultaneously alert the surveillance operators that their installation is not compliant with Canadian privacy standards, while symbolically protecting both passersby and the surveillance operators from the illegal capture of personal information.

Prof. Andrew Clement, a surveillance researcher at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, notes that Canadian privacy law requires video surveillance operators to properly inform the people they capture on camera about what they doing with their images. Our research shows clearly that almost no company does this, as most don’t even put up a sign. “Sadly, just pointing out to companies that they’re breaking the law is not enough to get them to reform. I hope that this stunt will encourage surveillance operators to take their legal responsibilities more seriously.”

Prof. Avner Levin, Chair, Law & Business Department, Ted Rogers School of Management and Director of the Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute at Ryerson University, states “Our drone calls the attention of Canadians – and our privacy commissioners – to this long-abused yet easily-corrected surveillance practice. We should not have to tolerate the violation of the law any further.”

Sukanya Pillay, Acting Executive Director and Interim General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, notes that our civil liberties, as well as the laws intended to protect them are vital, and can’t be taken for granted. “When organizations, whether public or private, flout privacy laws, all our liberties are at greater risk. Our event resists this worrisome pattern.”

The Network-Centric Applied Research Team (N-CART) of the Department of Computer Science at Ryerson University is supporting the event in order to expand the debate on the use of UAVs and the broader context of surveillance for reasons of public safety. Prof. Alex Ferworn notes that, “New technologies for surveillance have outpaced our society’s ability to create public policy for their governance. Our UAV surveils a CCTV camera which surveils our UAV–There are no effective rules for either activity”. The drone will be flown by Chris Kong and Jimmy Tran of N-CART.

When:        10AM, Tuesday, December 3 (weather permitting – not too windy or cold)
Where: Front lobby of the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, 55 Dundas Street West. (Depending on weather, pedestrian traffic and lighting conditions, the drone will be flown near one or more of the video surveillance cameras in the vicinity, operated by Best Buy, Cadillac Fairview, Ryerson University, Sears, Starbucks, etc., that overlook publicly accessible spaces. See map from SurveillanceWatch app, where photos of these sites are also available )


Surveillance is increasingly in the news these days, with secrecy shrouding its many disturbing features. Video surveillance is one of the few areas where surveillance practices, or at least the cameras that watch us, are in public view. Perhaps this prominent, even iconic, form of surveillance is relatively law-abiding and accountable, but even here the results are not encouraging.

To meet Canadian privacy standards, video surveillance by public and commercial sector organizations must provide prior notification to those whose personal images are captured. However, research studies supported by the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner have shown that the majority of private sector video surveillance installations have no signage, and where present, does not contain minimum required elements, such as owner, purpose and contact information. A widely publicized $100 reward for documentation of the first private sector video surveillance camera installation in Canada to meet the minimum compliance standards is still unclaimed. This provides strong corroborating evidence that there is widespread systematic refusal to meet privacy standards in the area of video surveillance. See:


For further information, contact:
Prof. Andrew Clement
Faculty of Information
Identity Privacy and Security Institute
University of Toronto

Prof. Avner Levin
Chair, Law & Business Department, Ted Rogers School of Management
Director, Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute
Ryerson University
416-979-5000 (ext 7690)

Sukanya Pillay
Acting Executive Director and Interim General Counsel
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
416-363-0321 (ext 256)

Prof. Alex Ferworn
Network-Centric Applied Research Team (N-CART)
Department of Computer Science,
Ryerson University
416-979-5000 x 6968

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