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Information privacy principles 3 and 4

I was asked to investigate the use of a hidden camera for secret surveillance of employees in a work changing room.

The complainant alleged that the camera used could rotate around the whole of what he described as the staff changing room while employees were changing and that sound equipment was being used. The complainant felt this surveillance amounted to an invasion of his own and the other workers' privacy. The complaint raised possible breaches of information privacy principle 3 in the collection of personal information and IPP 4 in the means used for collection.

I commenced my investigation by asking for an explanation from the employer of the purpose of using the camera. I was informed that the camera had been installed after the employer became concerned at the amount of stock going missing from the warehouse. The space involved was more properly characterised as a locker room rather than a changing room. The camera had been used only over a 1 month period to identify the employees involved. The employer originally used a fixed camera on the whole room to ascertain possible suspects. The complainant was picked out for spending more time near his locker. A video camera was then installed and directed only at the complainant's locker. The camera was not able to move and had no sound. The information collected on the video could only be viewed by designated people and the videotape was to be destroyed once the matter had been resolved.

My investigating officer inspected the locker room. She viewed the videotape which had been edited from 8 hours to 8 minutes of evidence. The officer also interviewed the private investigator hired to install the video camera who confirmed that it was not possible for the camera to rotate and that no sound equipment had been used.

Where an agency collects personal information directly from an individual it is obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure that the individual is aware of the fact the information is being collected unless an exception applies (IPP 3(a)).

I formed the opinion that the use of the video camera by the employer was covered by the exceptions to principle 3. Material to my conclusion were there were reasonable grounds to believe that:

- it was not reasonably practicable to draw the fact of filming to the complainant's attention as the video surveillance was intended to film covert and unlawful behaviour (IPP 3(4)(e));
- it would have prejudiced the purpose of collection if the complainant had been told that he was being filmed prior to the surveillance taking place (IPP 3(4)(d)); and
- non compliance with principle 3 was necessary to gain sufficient evidence of theft to enable prosecution of an offender before a court (IPP 3(4)©(iv)).

Information privacy principle provides that personal information must not be collected by means that are unlawful, unfair or which intrude unreasonably upon the personal affairs of the individual concerned. I concluded that the manner of collection was not contrary to principle 4 on the basis that:

- the use of the video camera to collect information was lawful;
- the agency had taken steps to minimise the extent of surveillance;
- the locker room was not a private space intended for the removal of clothing;
- in the videotape viewed the complainant had only been recorded removing his outer clothing therefore this limited amount of filming without the use of sound was not an 'unreasonable' intrusion upon the complainant's personal affairs; and
- given the need to identify the source of the stolen property and that the video camera was used solely for this purpose the covert surveillance was not unfair.

I therefore decided to end my investigation on the ground that the complaint did not have substance.

August 1994

Collecting personal information - Employer - Covert surveillance in changing room - Detection of theft - Disclosing fact of surveillance was 'not reasonably practicable' and would 'prejudice the purposes of collection' - Covert surveillance was necessary to gain sufficient evidence to enable prosecution - Information privacy principle 3

Collecting personal information - Employer - Covert surveillance in changing room - Detection of theft - Extent of surveillance was minimal - Surveillance did not 'intrude to an unreasonable extent' - Covert surveillance not unfair - Information privacy principle 4