NB Power is offering to install surveillance cameras on streetlights for municipal customers as part of a pilot project across the province, it confirmed.
The provincial power utility is in discussions with municipalities across the province regarding its Smart Cities pilot program, according to spokesperson Dominique Couture. The exact locations of the cameras are still in the planning stages, with about 100 sensors around the province planned as part of the project.
The program is "designed to test the effectiveness of smart, street light-connected sensors" including cameras, traffic sensors, noise sensors and air quality sensors, Couture said. "They can be used for increased security, monitoring and tracking of traffic patterns, noise pollution and air quality."
At the Municipal District of St. Stephen council meeting Aug. 30, CAO Jeff Renaud told council they met with NB Power to discuss installing community cameras as part of the project, and that staff and law enforcement partners are working to "pick some potential sites that we might want some eyes on."
In response to questions from councillors, Renaud said the cost would be estimated at $150 per month and that the information would be a feed to NB Power that they could share access to, saying that they would be used as "post-incident" cameras.
"Right now they know there is a focus in the community for community safety, for community cameras, so they're seeing that this might be a service they can roll out to their clients, their municipal clients, so that's what they're focusing on," Renaud said.
Couture said in the statement that NB Power is always conducting "assessments of the lighting industry" and customer needs to find possible new product offerings, and that the price of rentals as part of a paid participation agreement has not yet been finalized.
"We will be conducting this pilot in close partnership with municipalities to ensure that there is value before proceeding with a product offering," she wrote.
Dan Hicks, director of Moncton's parks department, says that they currently have about five streetlight timers, a noise sensor and five cameras installed on streetlights through NB Power. He said the timers were installed as part of upgrades to existing lighting and would have been "very expensive" to put on themselves, and have helped cut community complaints.
Since then, they installed a noise sensor at the department's headquarters and have installed cameras at the Hal Betts Sportsplex, where the city has had issues with "extensive theft and vandalism" related to copper wire theft, he said.
In Sussex, Jason Thorne, community services director, said the town has spoken with NB Power regarding one sensor and said staff are considering the possibility of using it to support policing services and for possible use as a traffic counter, although council would have the final say.
"We're no different than any community, so we do have a variety of needs," he said, noting that the devices can be moved and could be used to monitor major traffic intersections.
Riverview communications coordinator Mareika Dow said the project is not currently included in the town's strategic plan. Requests for comment to Shediac and Fredericton were not returned as of press time.
The device vendor is Livable Cities, a Halifax-based division of LED Roadway Lighting Ltd., according to Hicks and Thorne. The firm also worked with Saint John Energy on a pilot project for speed sensors in 2020. A request for comment to Livable Cities was not returned by press time.
The project is not related to the Shediac Smart Energy Community Project, which includes installation of solar energy systems and smart thermostats for private customers, Couture said.
Privacy vs. safety
Daniel Konikoff, the interim director of privacy, technology and surveillance program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that use of cameras involves some degree of sacrificing privacy for public safety. He said that a concern involves collecting information on people who are not suspected of crimes, and said governments seeking to install them should justify the operational reason for why they must be used.
"Is it necessary to put this camera here in this specific spot, and is the collection of data the absolute minimum amount?" he said, adding it should clearly be disclosed to people that they are being recorded and that the data is not being used recklessly. "Whatever the data that is directly proportionate to the need of the camera, that is what should be collected and no more."
Konikoff said the concern around "smart cities" projects in other jurisdictions, including the scrapped Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto, have included the issue of data governance, including who controls the data that's collected, what's done with it, and the involvement of private companies, as well as accountability.
NB Power's Couture said the utility is "committed to protecting the privacy of our customers," and said they have "robust measures" in place to protect it.
"Full reviews are being conducted for all systems and processes in the pilot and they will continue to take place for the duration of the offering," she wrote.
In a July 9 letter to councillors, St. Stephen Mayor Allan MacEachern said that the use of cameras can help crime prevention, but that "caution must be exercised to ensure these technologies are implemented ethically," including to protect rights and avoid discrimination.
"There's things you'd have to oblige by when you use these devices," MacEachern told Brunswick News, saying there are also downtown cameras planned as part of Chamber of Commerce improvements. "It will have to be handled and used appropriately, nothing would get shared."
He said part of the benefit would be that they could drop out if there are issues.
"It's easy for us to use as a pilot because there's no investment, all we do is rent the device ... and we can walk away at any given time," MacEachern said.
Moncton's Hicks said the city has a policy for how camera footage can be used, and that they don't monitor the footage, but would go back in retrospect if an issue was reported.
Sussex's Thorne said the use of cameras in the community isn't new, and that the town provides footage to the RCMP when there is a formal request during a given time frame. "[We're] not looking at any video unless we have reason to," he said.
New Brunswick RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Hans Ouellete said that the RCMP currently don't have direct involvement "with any companies" regarding the project.
He said the police add calls for anyone who may have surveillance video or dashcam footage as part of news releases involving active investigations. He said that when they think a property owner may have footage that would help, they'd knock and ask for access, and said police currently don't have access to monitoring for public cameras.
"We encourage anything that will bring a better sense of community safety and public safety in any neighbourhood," he said. "The technology is now there, I think it's more accessible now than it ever was, and more people are choosing that option."
Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal