A new service being offered to landlords in the Lower Mainland using heat-seeking technology to detect illegal marijuana grow operations raises privacy issues, a BC Civil Liberties Association official said Monday.
Micheal Vonn, policy director at the BCCLA, said there are some immediate legal questions, but also some “cultural ramifications” to the service announced last week by Griffin Investigations & Securities Ltd.
Landlords have a “legitimate interest” to protect their rental properties from illegal grow-ops, Vonn said, “the question is where is the balance … between tenants’ privacy and landlords’ protection?”
Brian Goldstone, Griffin CEO, said privacy was a major concern of the company, but legal advisors determined the heat-seeking FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) camera was not powerful enough to constitute an invasion of privacy.
The $14,000 suitcase-sized mobile unit cannot detect the heat of human bodies behind walls, but can measure the “heat signature” of an illegal marijuana grow-op inside a rental property.
“We’re not out there trying to see people in their homes or what they’re up to,” Goldstone said.
He said the inspections would normally take place from the roadside, at night, without entering the property or interfering with tenants.
Once a grow-op is indicated, the property owner can give the tenant two-weeks notice of a physical inspection. A marijuana grower would then likely quickly dismantle the equipment.
“They’re not going to want their grow-op found,” Goldstone said.
Property owners who buy into the service will also be able to advise prospective tenants that FLIR inspections will take place on a monthly basis.
“The whole idea is to prevent (grow-ops),” Goldstone said. “I hope we never find one.”
The $75 fee for the monthly FLIR inspection is a small price to pay for the thousands of dollars in remedial work that landlords face when a rental property is used for an illegal marijuana grow operation.
Goldstone, a retired police officer, said his company came up with the idea after doing the research and deciding it could be a money-maker for the company and at the same time help protect landlords from illegal marijuana grows.
“Landlords have no insurance to cover (the cleanup costs),” he said, which recently led to an $18,000 bill for one landlord in Mission.
Vonn said there appears to be two things that puts the service in the “grey zone” privacy-wise.
First, the contract for service may be outside the BC Residential Tenancy Act, and, secondly, the act provides for the tenants’ “exclusive possession of a rental unit, including reasonable privacy, and quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the rental unit.”
“The question then becomes is monthly FLIR inspection reasonable?” Vonn asked.
Vonn also pointed out there is a statutory tort of privacy in B.C. that, according to a Canadian legal website, is “actionable without proof of damage … to violate the privacy of another.”
So, the service is at least open to challenge in B.C. courts.
Vonn said that “ever-increasing technological in-roads into our private lives” does not come as a surprise, given the profits to be made.
But every time a “new invasive technology” arises, she said, the balance between privacy and other interests must be defined once again.
“What we don’t want to see is privacy compromised because technology allows us to do it,” she said.