Archive for December, 2007

CCTV and Police Surveillance in Bars in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

The current buzz is that the Owners of The Dome, a nightclub in Halifax recently shut down for a few days by regulators after a large brawl in which 38 people were arrested, and where a week earlier a door security staff allegedly assaulted a patron resulting in serious head trauma, intend make a series of changes to their operations including doubling the number of surveillance cameras.

The owner of The Dome says that the Halifax Police will be able to monitor the CCTV video feed (presumably online from police headquarters).

Is this a first in Canada? It’s probably commonplace in our prisons, but are there other bars in Canada with live police monitoring?

The Dome property has been one of the most heavily CCTV surveilled spots in Halifax for several years. The building’s exterior bristles with cameras at each corner and at entrances and other spots. The entire public space around the property is covered.

(Next door at the World Trade Center, the Halifax Police have a permanent pan, tilt and zoom camera mounted in a plastic bubble conveniently located to be able to watch the many bar areas and also the Grand Parade, where citizens often hold peace rallies, etc.)

No one regulates this. No regulatory agency has authority to say whether or not a private company can keep a public area under surveillance with privately owned video surveillance systems.

Over the past few years the situation seemed to have set a precedent. It led the way as other businesses followed suit. Although none look quite as fortress-like, many have similarly blanketed the public space surrounding their property with private surveillance systems.

The public quietly accepted this proliferation of private surveillance and as a result, and after the murder of Damon Crooks in 2006 outside a downtown bar, the Halifax Police Service was able to install their own real-time CCTV systems throughout the downtown with little public discussion of the privacy implications. You can see them at Pizza Corner, above Neptune Theater and on either side of Summit Place on the waterfront, high up on the top floor. There are several others as well and likely many more to come.

In Chicago the Police operate cameras that raise an alert when someone “lingers” outside a public building. Imagine that… Is Halifax on this track?

Unless the public takes an interest in challenging the currently unchallenged proliferation of electronic surveillance systems we will soon resemble a police state. Will crime rates drop? Probably not, but we are sure to feel the chilling effect of Big Brother watching in case you “linger”.

Now that the Dome is establishing a new precedent with the Halifax police, by allowing real time video surveillance of their customers, how long will it be before this becomes the standard in other clubs?

As some people say, if you’re not doing anything wrong you should have nothing to be concerned about. OK if that’s the case let’s have police cameras in all stores. How about in schools, libraries and restaurants; hotels, sports fields and beaches?

Heck, let’s just get it over with and implant every newborn with a GPS locator chip at birth for real-time tracking of your movements.

How much of this is appropriate for public safety and how much is simply to facilitate convenience for police and profit making by a private business owner? Where does public safety override our rights to privacy and our right to limit police control over law abiding citizens.

“Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.”

~ Bruce Schneier, CTO of Counterpane Internet Security and the author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World. blog

It’s time the provincial government enacted some legislation governing the deployment and use of CCTV in public places.


Dear Bar Owner – Please Kill the TV

Dear Bar Owner,

Cut the TV already wouldya please?

I came to your bar to sit with friends and have a meal and a couple of drinks. I’m spending a fair bit of coin in your establishment so I can enjoy their company. We want to talk and laugh and joke around. We want to catch up on old times. We want to enjoy the atmosphere of a bar and the way good friends can draw together in a social setting.

If I wanted to watch TV I would have stayed home. It’s truly horrible and tacky and makes me want to not come to your place again. You’re seriously damaging that which you work so hard to market; the atmosphere and the ambiance that I will pay to enjoy.

Your TVs are all over the place, often tuned to different channels, bombarding your valuable customers with distracting and annoying visual noise. Why do we have to suffer through compulsory television? Who asked for it?

Give me a great beer list, give me tasty bar food, let me laugh at your staff’s witty jokes. I want to love coming to your place and I will spend all kinds of money there but if you pollute my evening with TVs I’ll go somewhere else.

Meanwhile I will be making full use of this handy gadget.



“Mitch Altman, the 50-year-old inventor of the TV-B-Gone, (says) that when he feels depressed he arms himself and heads into the streets. “It’s almost a compulsion for me. When I see a TV going in a public place, I go out of my way to turn it off,” he says.

“Imagine a room where there’s an uptight person wearing really bright clothing and jumping up and down and yelling. It’s hard to be relaxed when that person is present. When a TV goes off, I notice people’s shoulders and arms relax — the body language changes completely. When I’m feeling blue, I turn off a television or two and life just seems a whole lot better.”

Also posted at the Chronicle Herald myConnect site