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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