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Are we living in the most secure era ever? That depends on your definition of the word and the context, but there’s no doubt that today’s security technology has made many of our public and private spaces far safer than in the past. From ultra HD surveillance cameras with facial recognition technology to ultra-secure biometrics, the tools that organizations have at their disposal to prevent or respond to unwelcome or emergency incidents are truly unprecedented. So much so that privacy concerns are now running up against security innovations, fueling legal and social tensions along the way.

Case in point: there is a fast-growing movement across Canada to limit the use of some advanced tools, specifically surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition software. Last month the Canadian Civil Liberties Association issued a call  for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in a wide range of settings. While stakeholders from law enforcement officials to business and commercial property owners would make an argument for the tech’s utility, social advocates counter that the privacy trade-off is far too great at this point. Better to stall a widespread rollout until a proper legal and regulatory framework can be built to control its use.

That comes on the heels of a new Ernst and Young report  indicating that COVID-19 seems to have changed Canadians’ expectations of data privacy. Fully 63 per cent of survey respondents said knowing how their data was collected and stored was of prime importance, along with control over what data is being shared (57 per cent), their trust in the organization sharing their data (51 per cent) and knowing how their data is managed, shared and used (45 per cent).

“The pandemic has ushered in significant changes that may have altered consumers’ attitudes toward data privacy, but they are unwavering about the importance of security,” the report’s authors note.

Security vs. privacy

In residential settings, those expectations are reaching new heights. Rental tenants and condominium owners alike are growing increasingly concerned that their movements are being monitored on a daily basis. In some cases, they are. Surveillance systems have long kept track of the movement of people and packages across residential environments, but new technology has delivered exponential enhancements in monitoring capabilities. In the vast majority of cases, however, their deployment is intended strictly to deter crime or inappropriate behaviour. The reality is that most commercial and residential property management firms–who are dealing with a raft of new challenges related to COVID-19–lack the staff (let alone the desire) to leverage that data in ways that would be of any reasonable concern to residents.

It’s simply available as a tool to review traffic flow in case of an incident, or to piece together timelines in the event of an accident. Reviewing an incident using surveillance footage is usually a key tool in preventing a similar occurrence from happening in future. The real question that residential stakeholders need to answer is whether privacy trumps protection in residential settings.

With license-plate recognizing cameras collecting data in parking lots and garages, and biometrics recording even more sensitive information every time residents enter a building, do new technologies cross an ethical—and even legal—line? Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, some residential communities in Canada have gone as far as to implement contact tracing and temperature monitoring (sometimes using high-tech cameras) to protect their residents and mitigate risk of an outbreak on their premises.

The urgent circumstances of the emergency aside, will we eventually regard these health and safety measures as a step too far?

Balancing privacy and protection 

The obvious solution involves implementing an effective security strategy that balances the right to privacy with the need for protection. That means customizing tactics to suit the needs of the residential community in question, be it housed in an ultra-tall downtown tower or a densely-packed rental building. Property managers are best advised to develop a series of privacy protocols that outline how personal data will be collected, stored, managed and eventually expunged. Access to that data must be tightly controlled. And that not only means limiting the personnel who can review it, but determining how it will be stored (e.g., on a local server or in the cloud). What cybersecurity tools will be used to mitigate the risk of a breach?

The best way to ease residents’ concerns over how their data is used is to build trust and remain transparent. By communicating on a regular basis—in some cases perhaps even developing a committee comprised of management and residents that’s tasked with setting guidelines to handle that data—reviewing and revising policies as needed and then erasing that data at predetermined intervals, most residents will be comfortable with having their personal details collected and stored.

Work with your security provider or a specialized data-management consultant to start and manage this process. Handling sensitive data is best left to the experts. Rest assured, your residents will appreciate the time and attention to detail in managing their personal information.

Winston Stewart

President and CEO