Long over-due policy on safety and security cameras proposed

A newly proposed policy aims to create central guidelines for the appropriate use of all safety and security cameras at both UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan. 

Security cameras have been used on both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses for many years, but currently there is no university-wide policy as to when they should be installed and how they should be used.

According to UBC's Chief Legal Counsel Hubert Lai, most camera operators will contact the office of the university’s legal counsel to be sure that they understand the proper way to deploy their camera. However, "once you get beyond a certain point, it becomes important to have a centralized policy that is published [and] clear.”

This point was reached after the series of sexual assaults on the Vancouver campus in 2013. After these assaults, a Campus Safety Working Group was formed to identify ways in which safety and security on campus could be improved. One of the changes they recommended was increasing the number of blue boxes on campus from the current 17 to 36 and then fitting these blue boxes with cameras.

Faced with such a huge increase in safety and security cameras on campus, the fact that there was no policy to govern their use becomes significantly more concerning.

“With all the new blue phones and the proposed installation of video cameras into those blue phones, the need for a centralized government framework has become much more important,"  said Paul Hancock, legal counsel to the university on information and privacy. "[We need] a centralized framework, but one that contains clear criteria for the installation and use of these cameras.”

Policy 118, when finalized, should allow a balance between concerns for both public safety and individual privacy. Under the proposed policy, the cameras fitted to the blue boxes will not be allowed to record images on a continuous basis. Only when someone presses the help button may the camera be turned on so as to increase the safety of those who press it. The only cameras that will consistently record images will be placed at the bus loop and will be used for forensic purposes only.

As for other cameras currently operating on campus, Campus Security Director Barry Eccleton said that, under Policy 118, they will be given a six-month grace period during which the department in charge of the cameras and will have to apply for the systems to continue. If their application is not approved, the cameras will be dismantled.

Both the AMS and the Student Union of UBCO fully support the proposed policy. Jenna Omassi, AMS VP University Affairs and Academic, is happy with the policy for two reasons.

“Firstly because it means that those blue phones will be re-furbished and will be able to be used properly for the security of the campus community more generally," she said. "Secondly because it means that there will be more of an oversight on cameras and we can ensure that the footage on these cameras will be used solely in times when it needs to be used and not abused.”

According to Omassi, the issue of footage usage is more of a problem on UBC’s Okanagan campus because of the greater number of cameras present. If passed, Policy 118 will ensure that camera footage is used for a more specific criminal set of incidents rather than for issues such as academic misconduct that, as it stands, cameras can technically be used for without the policy.

While there is a lot of support for the implementation of the policy, it is still only a proposal. The final set of recommendations will come to the Board of Governors with a recommendation for approval in January 2016 at the earliest. 

However, rather than waiting for such a date, university counsel and campus security urge the UBC community to answer the call for comments on the proposal that should be made public this week. The comments period will be open for about two months so as to provide members of the community time to provide their input.

“All the feedback we receive from that process will be given to the policy development committee and it will look at each and every piece of feedback,” said Lai.