1/26/2009Canada: Privacy Commissioner Orders Release of Camera Manuals
Edmonton, Canada police lose a near three-year battle to conceal red light camera manuals from the public.
Manuals governing the operation and calibration of red light camera systems must be released to the public following a ruling issued earlier this month by Alberta, Canada's Office of The Information and Privacy Commissioner. The decision handed down by Adjudicator Teresa Cunningham put an end to a nearly three-year attempt by the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) to conceal the documents from a resident who used freedom of information laws to request records "relating to the operation of red light cameras."
Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), the private company that operated the cameras for Edmonton in return for a share of the profits, specifically refused to allow police to hand over Instruction Manuals IM-E0207 and IM-E0306, claiming these documents were protected by a confidentiality and copyright agreement with Gatsometer BV, the Dutch manufacturer of the automated ticketing hardware.
"To my knowledge any information provided by ACS or Gatsometer BV to the EPS would have been done pursuant to a contractual relationship and provided in confidence," an EPS affidavit explained.
The adjudicator seized on the phrase "would have been" to conclude that the department was speculating and did not have a concrete contractual provision stating the document must be kept confidential. Because ACS failed to produce sufficient evidence to prove that the company took the confidentiality requirement seriously, it was not exempt from the freedom of information law.
"I am not satisfied that there was ever an explicit agreement between ACS and EPS to maintain confidentiality of the manual," the adjudicator wrote. "The technical information in the manual is about installing, setting up, calibrating, and using equipment -- information one would also expect to find in a user's manual that is not intended to be confidential."
ACS also argued that disclosure of the manuals would reveal important trade secrets, including allowing competitors to determine its current pricing structure. The adjudicator rejected this argument as implausible because the red light cameras in question were developed in 1996 and the manual itself dated 2002. The commissioner suggested a competitor in 2009 was unlikely to improve its technology by looking at the operations manual for a thirteen-year-old machine. The adjudicator cited a UK ruling to dispense with the argument that placing a copyright notice on the manuals prohibited public access to the information.
"The fact that information may be someone's intellectual property does not of itself preclude its legitimate availability to others," the Information Commissioner of the United Kingdom ruled. "Just as library books may be protected by copyright, their public availability is not restricted because of that status."
The resident who made the original request for the manuals sought information that could have been useful in fighting red light camera tickets. EPS did not argue that its true motivation was to thwart challenges to its ticketing program.
"For the reasons above, I find that disclosure of the manual could not reasonably be expected to result in significant harm to the competitive position of ACS or Gatsometer," the adjudicator ruled. "I order the public body to disclose the records at issue to the applicant."
EPS must immediately hand over the manuals to requesting parties and must give evidence to the privacy commissioner by March 3, 2009 that it has complied with the directive. A copy of the ruling is available in a 110k PDF file at the source link below.