TriTAG doesn’t think GRT should eavesdrop on your conversations
WATERLOO - Grand River Transit is poised to conclude less than a week of information sessions and a comment period, which had not been publically announced. The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group is concerned about details of the plan and the haste with which privacy concerns are being pushed to the wayside.
“Grand River Transit is moving too quickly to implement surveillance on buses,” said Tim Mollison, a TriTAG founding member. “GRT staff first intended to begin surveillance on buses without a policy in place, which Regional Council required be drawn up. After a policy was thrown together, Regional Council required public consultation to be carried out, but the time allotted by staff for comment has not been adequate.”
“If this isn’t stopped, before most regional taxpayers realize, GRT will be listening in on every conversation they have on the bus.“
GRT’s website refers to a ‘Security Camera Policy’, glossing over the planned recording of audio. “All along, this has been about security cameras, but now we suddenly find out that the conversations of transit users are going to be recorded?” said Mollison. “We want more people to take the bus, but who will want to do so if the walls are listening?”
“Grand River Transit has offered no justification for the planned recording of audio data or consideration of the privacy aspects. TriTAG believes that there should be no audio recording behind the yellow line by the front entrance,” said Mollison. “We can understand recording disputes at the farebox, but listening in to the entire bus is a serious breach of privacy expectations.”
TriTAG is also concerned about the haste with which the policy seems to be assembled and the resultant inconsistencies. “In the draft policy, there remains significant vagueness about uses for audio and video surveillance data”, said TriTAG executive member Duncan Clemens. “The ‘Storage’ section states that this data may be used ‘to investigate transit service issues’, which is not a use found in the Policy Statement. “
“It just isn’t clear how much this is about passenger security and how much it is about monitoring bus drivers’ job performance,” said Mollison. “TriTAG believes that there must be absolute clarity in the policy as to the purpose of surveillance and as to the ways that the data will be used.”
The GRT draft policy stipulates that data is to be stored for 60 ‘operational hours’. “Bus operational hours do not translate to human time very well,” said Clemens. “60 operational hours can mean anything from a week to months, whenever the bus is in service.”
“TriTAG believes that GRT should follow recommendations from the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, and store data for no more than 72 actual hours,” continued Clemens. “Transit users in this Region deserve at least this much respect.”
“GRT doesn’t plan to have any cameras on the driver, which is a curious omission,” says Mollison. “TriTAG believes that if the purpose of surveillance is security, that it is crucial for there to be a camera that captures the driver’s seat, as many incidents on board GRT vehicles involve attacks on drivers.”
“Our issue is not with security cameras on buses, but with the lack of clarity regarding audio recording and how data is to be stored and used,” said Clemens. “Frankly, we are disappointed that GRT is trying to push through this massive, ill-defined surveillance plan with minimal public discussion and with little regard to privacy or transparency.”
“The timelines for comments seem designed to stifle debate,” said Mollison. “‘Information centres’ are not consultation, and we hope Council will reject surveillance until a serious public process has taken place.”
The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group is a community organization with the goal of promoting transit and active transportation (walking and cycling) within Waterloo Region. TriTAG is composed entirely of volunteers, and is exclusively donation-funded by members of the Waterloo Region community.